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County Native Witnesses Courage of Dying Athlete

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Thanksgiving Day will be every day for Dana Perrotta after witnessing the courage of Lauren Hill.

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Dana Perrotta of Hiram handles the ball during a game against Westminster college Tuesday night. – Photos by Tiffany Wolfe, New Castle News

The sophomore point guard on the Hiram College women’s basketball team said that being part of what took place earlier this month was a life-changing event.

Perrotta, who started for two seasons at New Castle High before her graduation in 2012, will never forget the experience and what she learned from it.

In September, doctors told Hill that she had only a few months to live. But the Mount St. Joseph University freshman with inoperable brain cancer was determined to play in a game for her college. The NCAA allowed the contest to be moved up two weeks before the actual start of the regular season so that Hill could have her wish.

Hiram College agreed to the change and the game was set for Nov. 2 at Xavier University.

Before 10,000 fans in the stands and a television audience, Hill scored two left-handed layups in the Division III contest. She had to shoot with her left hand because the tumor more significantly affects the right side of her body.

It’s unlikely Hill will be able to play again, but she shows up for practice whenever physically possible to be with her team.

NOT JUST A GAME

“We went out there treating it as we would any other game,” Perrotta said. However, in the end, it was anything but.

“We were warming up about 30 minutes before the start and there wasn’t much of a crowd, but after we went to the locker room and came back out, all the seats were full,” Perrotta said.

“Lauren loves basketball so much that we were not going to disrespect her by tiptoeing around,” Perrotta said. “We played hard.”

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Dana Perrotta puts the pressure on a Wesminster Lady Titan.

MSJ got the victory, 66-55, and Perrotta and her teammates were disappointed in the outcome. “We were all standing there and watching Lauren celebrate with her team. It was kind of like a dream,” Perrotta said. “We were prepared for the 40 minutes of playing, but not for what happened afterward.

“To see the outpouring,” Perrotta said. “We weren’t ready for that. It was so very emotional and draining, but in the best way possible.”

Hill received a standing ovation from the crowd and well wishes from many, including former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coaching legend Pat Summitt, herself struggling with Alzheimer’s.

Hill stepped to the microphone and thanked all for making her dream come true. One night earlier during a dinner for both teams, Hill expressed her gratitude to Hiram.

“She addressed all of us, and thanked us for being so willing to play the game,” Perotta said.

TICKING CLOCK

Much has happened since, but the clock is still ticking for Hill.

General Mills put her picture on a Wheaties box, joining sports legends who have appeared on the “breakfast of champions” throughout the decades.

Mount St. Joseph has received calls from people around the world who are touched by Hill’s courage and inspiration. A Layup4Lauren challenge raised money for research into the type of cancer that will shorten her life.

“I learned more than I ever thought I would,” said Perrotta. “She showed me what it means to fight and never to take things for granted.”

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Dana Perrotta right jokes with teammate Kayla Yost on their way back to the court after the half.

The game is behind them now and the Hiram team is focusing on the future, but Perrotta said she and her teammates haven’t forgotten Hill.

“It comes up a lot before and after practice,” Perrotta said. “We’re thinking about her and getting updates from Coach Hays. We go online to get the latest information.”

Perrotta credits her coach, Emily Hays of Boardman, for keeping Hiram ready for the emotional rollercoaster that the team had embarked on. “She stayed calm, cool and collected and that helped the rest of us,” she said.

NEW OUTLOOK

The experience continues to resonate with Perrotta.

“My whole outlook on life has been altered,” she said. “I’m only a year older than Lauren and it definitely changed the way I look at things.”

Perrotta said most people her age don’t have to go to sleep worrying whether they will wake up in the morning.

Hill told CBS News she doesn’t know what to expect, either.

“I’m just worried about spending time with my family right now and trying to get to Thanksgiving,” she said. “You know, just living in the moment.”

Perrotta said she has become a different player by changing her attitude. She attributes that to her coach.

“I used to let a mistake on the court affect me in a negative way. I would be my own worst enemy,” Perrotta said. “One wrong thing would turn into three because of my emotions.

“But now I’m able to forget about it and move on to next play.”

Robert and Rosanne Perrotta are parents of eight children, including five girls and three boys.

“I’ve got so much to be thankful for,” Dana said. “I know how truly blessed I am to have this life.”