There are so many things Lisa Hill misses about her late daughter, Lauren. But extended hugs are near the top of the list.
Lauren Hill was an unabashed hugger.
“My clingiest child,” Lisa Hill said. “We used to have this thing, ‘hug and release,’ because she would hug but hang on to you for a super-long time. You’re like, ‘OK, you’re over your second quota. There’s so much hug you can take.’ I miss that.”
Lisa Hill said her daughter was zany and sarcastic, shy but determined, competitive and loving. She can’t believe it has been more than two years since Lauren grabbed the attention of a nation by playing -- and scoring -- in her first collegiate basketball game.
The NCAA had let Lauren’s school, Mount St. Joseph, play that game against Hiram College two weeks before its scheduled date in 2014 so that Lauren could participate as she battled an inoperable brain tumor. The game was also moved first from Hiram to Mt. St. Joe in Delhi Township, to lessen the travel for Lauren, and then was moved from Mt. St. Joe's 2,000-seat arena to Xavier University's 10,250-seat Cintas Center to accommodate the crowds.
Lauren died on April 10, 2015.
The second Lauren Hill Tipoff Classic returns to Cintas Center Nov. 12. Xavier’s women’s basketball team opens its season against Tennessee State in a Division I clash at 1 p.m. and Division III Mount St. Joseph and Hiram follow at 3:30 p.m.
The event features The Cure Starts Now Foundation, for which Lauren has helped raise $6 million. The tribute fund in her honor has raised $2.2 million.
This year the Tipoff Classic has a new pre-game feature called Bounce for the Cure. Kids in eighth grade and younger are invited to bring their own basketballs and participate in a dribbling parade to the arena’s plaza, where hoops will be set up to continue the Layup4Lauren initiative.
“We wanted to find something to make this even more relevant, especially with kids,” said Patrick Dillon, Xavier Athletics’ director for marketing. “The NCAA has done this at the Final Four for the past number of years. We wanted to do something similar through Xavier’s campus.”
Each child will receive a free Lauren Hill jersey T-shirt and a ticket to the doubleheader. Advance registration is required at GoXavier.com and will be limited to 500 children. Reserved seating otherwise is $10 for adults and $5 for youths, and the first 500 in attendance will receive free T-shirts.
Lisa Hill said Lauren would have loved the Tipoff Classic, not only because it showcases her favorite sport but because of its advocacy for brain cancer research and a quest for a cure.
The last few weeks have been particularly difficult for the Hills -- Lisa and Brent, kids Nate and Erin -- because of Lauren’s Oct. 1 birthday, the Nov. 2 anniversary of her milestone collegiate start and the return of the Tipoff Classic.
“I’m not going to lie. This is a really hard event for me,” Lisa Hill said.
“It’s a challenge because you just remember it’s a second year without her. She would have been a junior in (college), and it’s hard to pull yourself together and get it together but still be an advocate and make people realize that we don’t have a cure.”
Mount St. Joseph women’s basketball coach Dan Benjamin continues to marvel at the impact Lauren made on the team, the program, the university and the world. Her presence was a gift to him personally.
“I needed Lauren more than anybody will ever know,” Benjamin said.
He first met Lauren as a Lions assistant coach. After a home game against Kalamazoo, when Lauren was a high school senior, the team gathered with a blanket they’d signed.
“We walked over to give it to her and I’d only met Lauren once or twice at this time, so I was being polite. I went last to shake her hand and she just grabbed me and hugged me,” Benjamin said.
Players on the team still visit Lauren’s grave to talk to their friend. They’ve taken young Erin under their wing, Lisa Hill said, and treated her like a sister. They’ve shown up at her sporting events and sent her texts.
Lauren was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma on Nov. 20, 2013, after she’d committed to the Lions’ program, but in retrospect, Lisa Hill said, symptoms were there long before. One instance: Lauren suffered an abnormally severe concussion after doing a header in a soccer drill.
“It may have been that the tumor got swollen from the head impact, which triggered the symptoms to be more noticeable,” Lisa Hill said.
Lauren’s immediate sensitivity to light and sound forced her to spend much of her senior year in the counselor’s office, because it was dark and quiet. Those issues subsided for a while but Lauren’s legs suddenly didn’t feel quite right. She struggled to swallow when she ate. And she was dizzy an awful lot.
Finally, Lisa Hill said, Lauren “told me she wanted to go to the doctor and she wanted to go now.”
Her journey started soon after with the DIPG diagnosis, the mission to score in a college hoops game, and her unrelenting desire to speak and raise funds on behalf of kids who couldn’t.
Lisa Hill said it’s still hard to fathom Lauren’s impact. Her absence leaves a gaping void.
“Parents who get diagnosed are, like, ‘How do you even do this?’ My answer is always, ‘One minute at a time. Sometimes one second at a time.’ To be honest, it’s still one minute at a time, because you never know what the next second is going to bring,” Lisa Hill said.
“I find strength in Lauren, so when I watch video clips, it kind of invigorates me. You just keep on doing what I think she would want done, and what I know needs to be done.”