North Salem High School volleyball team raises nearly $20,000 for breast cancer research

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Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

The North Salem High School volleyball team heads to the Section I quarterfinals next week but one day, when the team looks back on this year, what may stand out even more is what they accomplished off the court. Led by senior captain Gigi LeClair, the girls collectively helped raise $18,526 for breast cancer research through their month-long Dig Pink fundraising drive.

“I’m overjoyed,” said LeClair. “Going into this year, my goal was $10,000.” This was the second year that LeClair led the team’s Dig Pink fundraiser, which they participate in along with other U.S. volleyball programs each October through the Side-Out Foundation, a national nonprofit. At North Salem High School, the initiative is typically organized by an upperclassman on the team. LeClair’s reason for fundraising goes far deeper than her responsibility as a team leader; it’s personal.

“My mother died of breast cancer when I was 12, and going into 8th grade,” LeClair said. “She did everything she could to keep pushing so she could spend more time with me and my sister. Never once did she lose hope.”

Gigi LeClair at the North Salem High School Dig Pink game on October 15, 2022. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

That quality of persistence is one that LeClair said she inherited from her mother, and that she has carried with her all through high school. As a freshman, just a year after losing her mom, she organized a team to participate in a walk for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. “I made my own team, designed shirts with my family, shipped them to my house and gave them out the day of the event. That walk raised $10,000,” LeClair said with pride.

The following year, LeClair organized a ‘pink caffeine’ fundraiser at Bobo’s Cafe in Somers, in which a portion of sales was donated to breast cancer research. “That year we raised over $2,000 from four hours of work,” LeClair said.

This fall, with a few years of fundraising efforts behind her, the 16 year-old raised the bar once again. LeClair expanded Dig Pink beyond just the volleyball team; she saw no reason not to invite every one of North Salem High School’s varsity sports teams to get involved with the cause. With the support of principal Vince DiGrandi and athletic director Denise Kiernan, LeClair helped facilitate a school-wide ‘pink out’ the Friday before the volleyball team’s Dig Pink game.

“I wanted to make [Dig Pink] an even more inclusive event, and have everybody participate,” she said. The results blew her away.

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

“Everyone was wearing pink,” she said. “The pictures are crazy cool. One kid painted his whole arm pink,” she said, scrolling through her phone’s photo album to pull up the photo, followed by another picture of classmates decked out in pink wigs. 

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

Students purchased trinkets that day - another outlet for fundraising. The following day, after the Dig Pink game, the community was invited to a car wash that the team hosted at the Croton Falls fire house.

The North Salem High School volleyball team at their fundraising car wash on October 15, 2022. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

For LeClair, seeing her classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends awash in pink is more than symbolic. It’s a reflection of a community coming together to show that they care. And a reminder of those who wear pink “because they have no other choice - either they had the disease or their parents had the disease,” she said.

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

At the team’s Dig Pink volleyball game, the referee told LeClair how impressed he was by what the team had accomplished. “A lot of people in my family have been affected by breast cancer,” he told her, “so thank you.”

No amount of money could ever bring back what LeClair and her family have lost, but LeClair said she will never stop looking for ways to make an impact. She does this work, she said, so that “this disease that has controlled the women in my family, the caregivers in my family, is not controlling me.”

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