Forty two years and two hours.
That’s how long Cardinal Mooney volleyball coach Dennis Caulfield and his wife, Patricia, were married until last October – the hardest moment of Caulfield’s life. Patricia passed away just after their anniversary and her battle against pancreatic cancer, rocking the Caulfield and Cardinal Mooney volleyball family.
Patricia passed in the middle of the volleyball season, but Caulfield couldn’t walk away from the rest of the season. That’s not him. After a decade of coaching at Mooney, it’s just what kept him going through each day.
“These parents and those girls helped me get through one of the darkest times of my life,” Caulfield said, with “Patty” printed on his purple shirt. “They were an inspiration to me and always kept in contact even when I took three or four weeks off.”
One year later, the dark days turned purple right inside of Cardinal Mooney. Parents, players, opponents and the Marine City community came together to make Wednesday’s game against Regina a Purple Out to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer research.
“With this being such a deadly cancer, it’s usually caught too late because there is no testing,” Caulfield said before the match. “Maybe we can help somebody save somebody tonight.”
Mooney didn’t just raise awareness, but they also won their match 3-1 (25-15, 25-20, 19-25, 25-22) to improve to 26-7-3 overall.
It’s hard to figure out who appreciates who more – Caulfield loves his team and the players and parents would do just about anything for him. Last year when the team was up north winning their Mackinaw Island tournament, they would send videos back to Patricia. To the players, that whole season was for her.
Even after her battle ended, she was still in every Cardinals heart.
“Every time we step out on the court to play the game we love, we don’t just play for each other or coach,” senior Calista Chaltron said in a speech to the purple-covered crowd before the match. “We still play for Mrs. Caulfield … so no matter where Pat is in heaven and no matter where any of us end up, we will always have her in our hearts.”
Ironically enough, the night was also personal for Regina junior setter Alex Wilke, whose grandmother is fighting pancreatic cancer today. Once Wilke’s mom, Denise, caught wind of what Mooney was planning she helped as much as she could leading up to the event, even helping set up the gym throughout the day.
“It really hits home, my grandmother has been struggling with it,” Wilke said. “(Volleyball has helped) in all aspects of stress.”
Admittedly, when the idea of a Purple Out came to Caulfield, he wasn’t really sold on it. Having attention toward himself just isn’t his thing, but with persistent parents pushing and pushing, he eventually gave in.
“I was humbled by it, and kind of apprehensive,” Caulfield said with a smile. “I don’t like any attention to come to me and the family, but the parents were insisting that we do it, and I’m gracious they did.”
The night had speeches, raffles, donations, pamphlets on pancreatic cancer awareness and a gym wall crammed with purple ribbons. Oh yeah, and it also had that volleyball match between two teams wearing purple jerseys.
“Honestly, at school it’s all we could think about,” Chaltron said. “It’s an exciting event, we get so pumped up for it. We know everyone is going to come out for it, but we like that pressure.”
It was big, but that’s what happens when Caulfield and his family is included in an event. For every ounce of love and support Caulfield, his wife and his family has for the volleyball team, the Mooney family has just as much, if not more, to give.
“That’s the biggest thing – so many of the parents and kids are supportive and would do anything with my dad” Caulfield’s daughter, Jennifer Jarchow said. “But he has this way of making small things into something big.”
Pancreatic cancer symptoms
Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your back
Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Loss of appetite