Panthers raise $6K at charity stripe
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- Hoosick Falls Central School junior basketball player Hannah Lilac stood at the foul line and took a deep breath.
She focused on the basket, lined up her shot, bent her knees and let go, like every other free throw she's ever taken.
But these weren't normal free throws -- not at all.
The shots were part of a February fundraiser for the Karen McGovern Fund, a non-profit charity that helps cancer patients cover supplemental expenses.
Girls basketball coach Eamonn DeGraaf came up with the idea, something different than the usual fundraisers, a way to make more for the fund. He unveiled his plan to Mike Lilac, Hannah's father and the boys basketball coach at Hoosick Falls.
"It was very personal to me, my father-in-law, Ersel Hickey, was battling cancer himself," Lilac said. "He was a big fan of all our sports."
Players from both the boys and girls teams would take 100 free throws and each one made would be worth money, depending on how much was pledged.
Going around to friends and family looking for donations, Hannah visited Hickey at the hospital to see if he could donate to the cause. While many donated, Hickey, a village trustee and a former basketball coach at St. Mary's Academy, decided to up the ante for his granddaughter.
"He pledged $10 a shot," Mike Lilac said. "I couldn't believe the pledges we were getting."
"He was real excited about it," Hannah Lilac said.
Word spread on the donation that Hickey, a bus driver at Hoosick Falls Central School for more than 30 years, had made.
"Everyone knew how much he pledged, so she had the most pressure shooting her free throws," Mike Lilac said.
The day of the fundraiser came but Hickey couldn't see Hannah shoot her free throws. As he battled the disease, the lifelong Hoosick Falls resident was at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
So after a high school season where Hannah Lilac scored 13 points and shot 3-of-6 from the charity stripe as a reserve for the Panthers, her most important shots came when the season was over.
She was one of the final shooters of the event.
"I was really nervous to start, but as it went along, I got a little less nervous," Hannah Lilac said.
She started shooting, making a couple, missing a couple, then making some more. By the time she finished, she'd made 56 of her 100 free throws.
"I really thought I could have made more, I was so nervous," Hannah Lilac said. "Coach DeGraaf came up to me and joked, ‘You only made that much?'"
With $560 from her grandfather added into the rest of the donations, Hannah Lilac raised more than $800. All told, the event raised nearly $6,000 for the McGovern Fund.
"We knew Hannah would get a lot, but a lot of the kids brought in hundreds of dollars," Mike Lilac said. "It was really surprising how much we raised."
On February 25, Hickey succumbed to the disease at the age of 70.
But a few days before his passing, Hannah Lilac returned to SVMC to tell her grandfather how she'd done.
"He was real proud and excited for me," Hannah Lilac said. "It was really a good experience."
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