My favorite thing I saw in Memphis sports last weekend wasn’t that b-e-a-utiful Jeremiah Martin wrap-around pass to Raynere Thornton in the Tigers loss to UCF.
It wasn’t the small, but mighty, “Express Mafia” showing out for Memphis’s new pro football team’s home-opener.
It wasn’t Mike Conley and Jaren Jackson Jr. making sure the Grizzlies stayed repped during All-Star Weekend.
All of those things were good. They were great.
But they weren’t as great as hundreds of soccer fans coming out to Christian Brothers University on a cold Saturday in February to watch a scrimmage.
Memphis 901 FC played their second preseason friendly. They beat CBU 4-1. The final score didn’t really matter.
What mattered was that half of all proceeds from the scrimmage benefited St. Jude in honor of Anna Della Rosa, a former intern for Memphis 901 FC.
“She’s one of us,” said 901 FC coach Tim Mulqueen.
But Anna isn’t just one of them. She’s one of all of us. A Memphian.
Anna played soccer at Houston High School before going onto play for the women’s team at CBU.
A few months ago she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and began treatment at St. Jude.
I spoke with Anna via text message earlier this week, and in just a few messages, I was blown away by her kindness and positivity.
A fever kept her away from Saturday’s game, but her presence was everywhere.
Fans wore “Anna’s Angels” shirts; the loudest and proudest, a group of teammates from the CBU women’s team.
Both Coach Mulqueen and CBU Coach Clint Browne shared messages to her after the game.
“If you haven’t had a chance to meet Anna, she will make you smile after the conversation,” said Coach Browne. “She’ll make you smile during the conversation. She’s everything that the University would want in a student and an athlete.”
Anna’s brother, Stefano, plays for the CBU men’s team and when I asked him who’s a better soccer player between the two, he laughed and said, “probably her, honestly.” And followed that up with hopes of good weather, so the two could get back out on the field together sometime soon.
“She’s very strong,” he said. “I know she’s going to get through this no matter what.”
Helping her along the way has been the Memphis community; spearheaded by one of the city’s, and nation’s, greatest givers, St. Jude.
I spoke with Anna’s father, Roberto, during the game and he was brought to tears recalling how kind the people of Memphis have been over the last few months.
The love and hope he has for his daughter knows no bounds. Nor does his gratitude and respect for all of those who have helped her in fight.