– There is no place like home for Lauren Hill.
Six weeks after what was supposed to be her first and final college game, the Mount St. Joseph University freshman tossed in the first two points in the school’s home loss to Franklin College on Saturday.
“It’s always been my dream to score on this court,” Hill said after thrilling everyone inside the small Harrington Center gymnasium.
The 1,000 fans gave a standing ovation to the 19-year-old who has dedicated her remaining days to raising awareness and research funds to find a cure for her rare, inoperable brain cancer.
“I was surprised because I’m like pumped with energy right now and I don’t know where it came from,” she said after the game. “But I was just so excited and ready to score. I was ready for that basket.”
Hill said she felt awful when she woke up Saturday. She had missed the last four games due to her weakened condition, but she was hoping to feel well enough to play in the team’s first game on its home court, where she started practice in October.
She said she drew special inspiration from her teammates and her coach, Dan Benjamin, as well as her family, friends and many hometown fans from Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
“I was overwhelmed with love, like the love my team has for me and how much (Benjamin) loves me,” said Hill. “He’s like another dad and my team’s like an extension of my actual family, and the gym is another home to me.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the support. It touches my heart. I’m so happy that I’m able to touch everyone else’s heart. It just makes everything so much more special. It makes that basket more special.”
At halftime, her tearful coach choked up as he announced that the Mount was retiring Hill’s now-famous No. 22 jersey.
“He’s a baby,” teased Hill. “He always cries. He was making me tear up, too.”
During the brief ceremony, an eighth-grader from Holy Family School in Price Hill, Trisha Grogan, presented a check for $500 she had raised for the cancer-fighting organization, The Cure Starts Now Foundation.
“It feels really good to know I’m helping with something that’s really important,” Grogan said.
Hill has been in good spirits despite her declining health. She hosted a sleepover for her teammates this week. (See Lauren at lower left).
The fans at the Harrington Center hoped to see Hill play again but came to celebrate the amazing things she has accomplished whether she got on the court or not.
Hill fulfilled her dream of playing in her first college game in front of 10,000 cheering fans at Xavier’s Cintas Center on Nov. 2. She made a legion of admirers across the country when she scored the first and last baskets in a victory over Hiram College.
She played again – and scored a basket – against Bethany College in a tournament loss outside Cleveland on Nov. 21.
Saturday’s basket gave her eight career points, but if there was a box score for inspiring others and being a role model, Hill would have hundreds of thousands of points.
Hill has devoted much of her time and effort to raising money for research to find a cure for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. DIPG mostly strikes kids 8 to 18, and the 19-year-old Hill took it upon herself to be a voice for other sufferers and try to save lives in the future.
Hill has helped raise more than $600,000 for DIPG research through The Cure Starts Now. She recently set a goal to raise $1 million before the end of the year.