An Oak Hill player, in purple center, is flanked by a pair of Maranacook players, in pink, during the Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament on Saturday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

TOPSHAM — When Mt. Ararat field hockey head coach Krista Chase started the annual ‘Drive out Cancer’ game between Mt. Ararat and Morse several years ago, she had plans to make it bigger than just the one game.

Those plans have been a reality for seven years now and were on display for the first time in two years on Saturday, as Mt. Ararat hosted Brunswick, Lincoln Academy, Lisbon, Maranacook, Morse, and Oak Hill at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham.

“This one is special for several reasons,” said Chase. “After how things went last year, we feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to play games again for a great cause.”

Teams held a virtual fundraiser last season but were unable to play games due to protocols surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Saturday, things were as back to normal as they could get. Tents were set up with concession stands and gear for purchase. Spectators could purchase a ribbon to write a loved one’s name who has been diagnosed with cancer. There was a ceremony in the middle of the day where the ribbons were placed on the north side of the fields. A moment of silence was held to honor those who have dealt with cancer.

People place pinwheels and paper ribbons with the names of someone affected by cancer during the Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament on Saturday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Funds were raised by teams with the beneficiary being the Maine Children’s Cancer Program based out of Scarborough. Scrimmages were played in round-robin format throughout the day on the two fields. In the middle of the day, there was a ceremony where cancer survivors, families of cancer patients, and current cancer patients spoke about their experiences. Mt. Ararat held a car wash last week while Oak Hill set up a bottle drive.

Over $60,000 was raised over the past seven years from this event.

“It means a lot to me,” said Oak Hill assistant field hockey coach Abby Fuller, a 2016 Oak Hill High graduate who is a six-year cancer survivor. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see everyone here today supporting this cause. It’s emotional.”

People put pinwheels and paper ribbons with the names of someone affected by cancer during the Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament on Saturday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Morse head coach Kerri Reno called it a blessing to be back playing after last year’s hiatus.

“I love to see how much this event has grown from just one game between Mt. Ararat and Morse,” said Reno. “Field hockey in this state is a family. To be able to come together for such a good cause and play field hockey is truly special and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

It’s a special day for the players too.

“Nothing feels better than playing for a cause like this one, it’s a special thing for me,” said Paige Witwicki, a senior at Mt. Ararat. “It took a little getting used to when getting back out there, but today was awesome.”

Maranacook goal keeper Esme Jamison blocks a shot against Brunswick at the Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament on Saturday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mt. Ararat had yet to play a preseason scrimmage this season before Saturday.

Witwicki was one of several speakers who talked about their own or a loved one’s experience with childhood cancer.

Maranacook head coach Ashley Work said her team had been waiting for this day for quite some time.

“It’s beyond wonderful,” said Work. “To see them socializing and having fun while knowing what we’re playing for is a fantastic feeling that the girls won’t forget.”

While the scoreboard didn’t matter at Saturday’s event, it’s a good way for teams to see some of the competition they’ll be facing when the regular season starts next week.

The concessions table featured special cookies custom made for the Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament on Saturday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Preseason games are so important,” said Reno. “It’s hard to get the girls to mesh as you want them to until they step on the field, so this is a good way for us to see where we’re at.”

Added Brunswick senior Kaeden Green: “It’s a good way to get back in the swing of things, it’s been a long time since we last played a real game.”

The regular season is scheduled to kick off Wednesday.

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