April 18, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - There were tears in Edna Justiniano's eyes before she even got out of the car.
Arriving on the Fayetteville State campus to send off her husband Miguel and his team, the Fayetteville State Lady Broncos softball club, on their trip to the CIAA Tournament in Petersburg, Va., the Justiniano family was greeted by 20 girls in black T-shirts.
Adorned with a pink ribbon is white script reading "Broncos support." On the back, above a batter swinging a pink streak across the black landscape is Edna's nickname, "Mama Who." For the 18-year breast cancer survivor who only a couple of weeks ago was honored by the team and threw out the ceremonial first pitch of Fayetteville State's Breast Cancer Awareness Game, it was almost too much to bear.
"She was shocked," says Miguel Justiniano, known affectionately as "Coach Who." "She didn't know the team would do that for her. She was speechless, and that doesn't happen very often."
Junior infielder Ashley Wlezen (Charlotte, N.C.) joined teammates Rebecca Polascheck (So., Raeford, N.C.), Sencerae Locklear (Fr., Fairmont, N.C.) and Sacari Miller (Fr., Shelby, N.C.) in launching the idea, which took off as several members of the team played different roles in making it happen. Among others, Wlezen designed the shirts and Locklear found an outlet willing to print them for a reduced price. And all the players happily put them on Wednesday morning.
"Without `Mama Who,' we don't have Coach Who," says Miller. "She always shares Coach Who with us, through all the practices and all the games and everything else. It just felt right to try to do something for a couple who have meant so much to us as a team, as a university and as a family."
The Lady Broncos open tournament play against Virginia State at noon on Thursday as the No. 2 seed out of the CIAA's Southern Division, the fifth straight year under Coach Who that Fayetteville State has both qualified for the tournament and finished second or better in the division standings. The game will take place at Petersburg Sports Complex, where the Lady Broncos will wear the shirts under their jerseys.
"This has meant so much to my wife and I," says Coach Who. "For them to think about my wife and her ordeal, and to do something to honor that, it's just amazing."
Wlezen says that it was just the right thing to do.
"She's been with us all from the beginning," Wlezen says. "We all know how much Coach Who loves his wife, and we just wanted to do something special for them. "
Maya Washington (So., Red Springs, N.C.) says the shirts are in memory of many people as well.
"So many of us know somebody who's been affected by breast cancer, and this is a way for us to not only show our support for someone we know and love dearly, but for all of those that went before and were lost," she says. "Anything that can bring awareness is important (to the cause)."
But make no mistake, that's Edna Justiniano's nickname on the back.
"Coach Who and Mama Who mean so much to all of us," Locklear says. "We'd each do anything for each of them. We love Mama Who and Coach Who."