Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Lauren Hill's courage moves a Georgetown College basketball player to action

"I hope we can let her know that what she has done has touched people," Jessica Foster, left, said of Lauren Hill's plight.
"I hope we can let her know that what she has done has touched people," Jessica Foster, left, said of Lauren Hill's plight.

Like many who watched media coverage of Lauren Hill's appearance in last Sunday's Mount St. Joseph-Hiram College women's basketball game, Jessica Foster was moved to tears.

Hill, a Mount St. Joseph freshman from Greendale, Ind., has become a national symbol of courage. An athlete dying young, Hill has an inoperable and terminal form of brain cancer. She might not live to see 2014 become 2015.

Yet one of Hill's life goals was to play college basketball. So Mount St. Joseph petitioned the NCAA to move up the start of its season to Nov. 2 in order to ensure the 5-foot-11 forward had that chance.

The two layups Hill scored in Mount St. Joseph's 66-55 win over Hiram before 10,250 fans in Xavier University's Cintas Center might have been the four most meaningful points in college basketball history.

Foster, a Georgetown College junior forward, felt a unique kinship to Hill's story. She was so moved that she persuaded Georgetown officials to use an upcoming game to honor Hill.

Last Sunday night, as she watched ESPN features on Hill, "I kept seeing gyms I recognized where I had played in high school," Foster said.

Hill attended Lawrenceburg High School in Indiana. Foster played for that state's South Ripley High School in Versailles (pronounced like the town here in Kentucky is). "It's not a 30-minute drive away from my school to her school," Foster said.

When South Ripley played Lawrenceburg in girls' basketball during Foster's senior year, Hill was a sophomore.

Although they grew up so close to each other and are only two years apart, the two basketball players don't know each other, Foster said.

Wracking her memory, Foster could not remember whether the two faced off on the court. "I'm 6-1 and she's 5-11, so if she was playing varsity as a sophomore, I think there was a good chance we guarded each other," Foster said. "But I just don't remember."

In November 2013, Hill, now 19, was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare form of pediatric cancer. Only days earlier, she had committed to play college hoops at Mount St. Joseph, an NCAA Division III school in Cincinnati.

When Foster heard Hill tell ESPN how much that feeling "the vibration of the crowd" while playing in a college basketball game would mean to her, she couldn't hold back the tears.

"Here's somebody who is basically from where I am from, who is only two years younger than me, and she'll never get to finish college, never get married, never get to do so many things you take for granted you will do in life," Foster said, her voice quavering. "I just decided I wanted to do something."

Last Monday, Foster told school officials at Georgetown what she had in mind, and they got on board immediately.

So when Midway visits Georgetown at 7 p.m. Tuesday for a women's hoops contest, the game will be billed as Play For 22 (Hill's number).

All gate receipts and the proceeds from special T-shirts being sold at the contest will be donated to Hill's family to help defray medical expenses. Donations are welcome, too.

"We're hoping we can raise several thousand dollars," Georgetown Athletics Director Brian Evans said.

All the members of the girls' hoops team at Foster's old high school, South Ripley, are scheduled to attend the game. "I hear they've canceled practice so they can come," Foster said.

Word has been sent to Mount St. Joseph about the event, although Foster doesn't know whether Hill herself has been informed.

"We want our athletes to think of causes outside themselves," Evans said. "Jessica has really taken the impetus in doing that here. We're proud of her."

Normally, Foster wears No. 15 for Georgetown. However, for this one game, she and teammate Haley Armstrong have agreed to switch numbers.

So Foster will Play For 22 while wearing 22.

"I don't want this game to be strictly a Georgetown College thing," Foster said. "I hope it will be the Georgetown community, and the Lexington community, anyone who wants to help show Lauren that her story has been heard. I hope we can let her know that what she has done has touched people and that she will not be forgotten."