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All eight teams participating in the Assiniboia Rockets senior girls' basketball tournament gather in their pink jerseys minutes before the tip-off of Assiniboia's seventh annual Pink Game Feb. 5 at the ACHS gymnasium. Photo by Allison Bamford.

The Assiniboia Composite High School Rockets girls’ basketball team played for more than just baskets on Feb. 5. The Rockets hosted their seventh annual Pink Game to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer.

 The Pink Game, just like it sounds, is a basketball game played entirely in pink – pink uniforms, a pink basketball and a crowd dressed in pink – signifying the battle against cancer.

 The tradition started in 2009 when Rockets’ head coach Al Wandler was flipping through a basketball catalogue and stumbled across pink uniforms.

 “I thought, ‘Hmmm those are different, what can we do with those?’” Wandler recalled. He never imagined that those pink uniforms would become such a success.

 “I’ve always been a big believer in the basketball team that the girls should be giving back to the community that supports them,” Wandler said. “They always have to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”

 “The Pink Game helps our team chemistry,” Wandler said. “It’s had us play better in the recent years as a result of that … because the girls want to play for each other rather than just play.”

 The Pink Game has certainly become bigger than the team, and even bigger than the community.

 With the pay-it-forward mentality, each year the newest addition of the ‘pink family’ buys uniforms for another basketball team to host their own pink games with the understanding that they will then pay it forward to another team.

 This year’s addition to the ‘pink family’ was the Humboldt Mohawks, coached by Kerri Archibald.

 “The girls are really excited about becoming part of the tradition and they love their pink uniforms,” Archibald said. “It’s also important that the awareness is spreading.”

There are now 16 teams that have adopted the ‘pink game’ tradition across Saskatchewan. Eight of these teams participated in the Rockets’ tournament on Feb. 5 and 6. These teams included the Indian Head Broncs, Caronport Cougars, Humboldt Mohawks, Fillmore Falcons, Clavet Cougars, Unity Warriors and Shaunavon Silhouettes.

 “The goal is to showcase these eight teams, these eight coaches, these eight players that are doing this all around the province,” Wandler said.

 Each year, the money raised is donated to a person directly affected by cancer. This year’s pink game donations went to Austin Thronberg, an ACHS alumni, who was diagnosed with leukemia last September and recently entered remission. Thronberg said he is thankful for the Rockets basketball team as well as the tremendous support he’s received from the community.

 “This support has showed how close this community is with one another and means so much to me,” Thronberg said.

 Unfortunately, Thronberg lost his battle with cancer Feb. 9 after having attended the Pink Game only days before. 

 Over the past seven years, Wandler said the Rockets alone have raised over $23,000. As for the entire province, Wandler estimates the amount of money raised through all the pink games to be “easily” $45,000.

 However, for Wandler, the Pink Game isn’t all about the money.

 “It means hope,” Wandler said. “It’s not just basketball… As long as people know they have support and people will always be there, that to me is what it’s really all about.”

 “It’s not a game,” Wandler said. “It’s the idea behind it that’s so important to me.”

 This year's Pink Game matchup had the Assiniboia Rockets faceoff against the Shaunavon Silhouettes. The Rockets won 66-40.