HUNTINGTON — On the field, West Virginia Diamond Dusters softball players show no mercy, but off it they demonstrate great compassion.
Each season, Diamond Dusters, an organization of travel softball teams based in Barboursville, donates proceeds from their Dawn Nethercutt Memorial Softball Tournament to a person fighting cancer. On Saturday, the Dusters presented a check to Huntington High School sophomore Hannah Caserta, who recently was deemed cancer-free after a lengthy battle with the disease.
"It means a lot to me to have the support of so many other people, especially softball," Caserta said. "I've been wanting to do softball for a long time."
Caserta never played softball because of Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition that causes an extra electrical current across her heart.
"We held her back from sports and were waiting for her to get a little older because of that," said Scott Caserta, Hannah's father. "We were going to see the doctor about her playing when she was diagnosed with cancer."
Doctors said softball likely won't be a possibility for Caserta, 15, because of the difficulty she might have running after extensive surgery left her with an 18-inch scar on her left leg and titanium rods inside. She walked confidently, however, onto the Dot Hicks Field turf at Marshall University to accept the check as Diamond Dusters players worked out behind her.
Scott Caserta said that feat alone was miraculous after 10 months of chemotherapy, knee surgery six months ago and a stroke two weeks ago.
"None of this would be possible without God," Scott Caserta said.
The players were as excited to see her as they were to play the game they love, posing for pictures and congratulating Caserta for beating the disease. Quinn Ballangee and Ramey George, two stars of Barboursville's state champion Little League team, flanked Caserta in the group shot.
Marshall signee and former Cabell Midland High School star Sydney Chapman smiled broadly as she watched Caserta and the players interact along the third base line.
Nethercutt, then known as Dawn Straub, was a standout pitcher on Milton High School's 1990 Class AAA state championship softball team. On May 31, 2014, at age 42, Nethercutt died after an eight-year battle with cancer. Her daughter, Megan, is a rising senior on Cabell Midland's softball team.
"I remember Dawn coming to Megan's (Little League) games," said Chuck Chapman, one of the Diamond Dusters' coaches who presented the check to the Casertas. "She came to a game and was so sick she could hardly hold her head up. Megan got a hit and Dawn raised her head and her fist in the air. She inspired us to do the tournament and donate the proceeds to someone dealing with cancer.
"We're honored to pick Hannah this year. She's very deserving."
The team also presented Hannah with a black, green and white Diamond Dusters jersey featuring the team's logo and No. 11. She proudly held up the shirt and smiled broadly.
"We wanted to give you this jersey," Chuck Chapman said. "You're part of the family."
Hannah, who is a member of the National Honor Society despite being able to attend school only one month last year, said her fight against the disease was difficult, but she wasn't going to quit.
"I'm stubborn," she said with a laugh.
Hannah said her experience has given her the desire to be a pediatric oncologist. She said her doctor, Paul Finch at Cabell Huntington Hospital, inspired her. She plans to take a step toward that soon.
"I'm going to work with the child life specialist at the Hoops Family Children's Hospital at Cabell Huntington to help other kids who have cancer," she said. "I want to help them and their families."