OREM — The Hurricane Tigers volleyball team did not win the 3A state tournament held at Utah Valley University during the last weekend in October.
What the girls accomplished in those days was much more profound.
In addition to representing their school and their southern Utah community, the Tigers were also playing for Mia.
"Mia McDonald was a 4-year-old girl from Midway, Utah, who received a heart transplant when she was six months old," Hurricane coach Dan McKeehan explained.
Nearly 300 miles away, the Tigers learned of Mia's story when KSL and the Deseret News reported that the Make-a-Wish Foundation in Utah had granted her wish to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
"They flew her family in early October to Disney World," McKeehan continued. "When she got there her body began to reject the heart. She never made it to Disney World. She passed away in the hospital."
Immediately, McKeehan and his team wanted to reach out to the family.
"This young girl had been through so much in her life, she had fought so hard. She just wanted to make it to Disney World. Obviously, for the family, it's a huge loss."
The Tigers had started the season wearing pink headbands and held a Pink Game in honor of Lori Richards, a volleyball pioneer in Utah who passed away in February.
"Once we did that, we really felt like we had done some good things," McKeehan said. "Then we saw this story. We came into practice the next day and we all talked about it and felt like, 'Let's do something. Let's honor this little girl, let's show our respect to the family.' "
The Tigers created warm-up shirts with the words 'Play for Mia' on the back and wore white "Angel Mia" ribbons. They also put together a care package for the family that included a shirt, a ball signed by the team, and a team picture. Then they called the family and invited them to the state tournament.
"Our principal (Jody Rich) got in touch with her parents and grandparents and they said they would be honored," said McKeehan. "We got to visit with them and share some hugs and tears. It was just a fantastic learning experience for our kids."
Hurricane, the fourth-place team in Region 9, lost its first tournament match to Delta in three games. The team turned around to defeat Stansbury, Tooele, and Spanish Fork to place sixth overall. That finish, however, was inconsequential to the Hurricane coach.
"Win or lose, I didn't care," he said. "I felt like they were already winners."
That is because the team, and the school as a whole, encourages a motto of, "Do things for others."
"We have an acronym we use in our gym of J.O.Y: Jesus, Others, and Yourself in that order," McKeehan said. "When you do that, you're usually in pretty good shape, regardless of the outcome of a game."
McKeehan, Rich, and Mia's father, John, have organized a bike ride from Idaho to St. George this coming May. The motivation for the trip is three-fold: to remember Mia, to raise donations to help the family with medical bills, and to increase awareness for organ donation.
"The family acknowledges that they never would have had four years with their daughter were it not for another family willing to give their child's heart when their son passed away," McKeehan said.
There is more information about the ride at www.Bike4Mia.com and an opportunity to help the family financially at Zion's Bank.Comment on this story
"If 100,000 people saw this, passed it on to a friend, and donated a dollar, that would help the family so much," he added. "And also, if people saw this and looked at their driver's license and said, 'I should be an organ donor,' that would be huge. The family donated Mia's organs. Now, there are families elsewhere that get the gift of life because of this little girl."
The coach added that while he had been a part of a championship team in 2008, what he learned and the experiences he had this season with his sixth-place team were far better and more meaningful.
"I couldn't be prouder of these kids," he said. "It's one of those things that is a great life lesson for us and for our girls. They learned so much more than volleyball."