Say a prayer in remembrance of Dolores Mihalich, the mom of Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, who passed away at age 88 on Wednesday after a lengthy bout with colon cancer.
Mrs. Mihalich became a wonderful story line in 2005 when her son revealed that she was battling the disease and that he hoped to give her an emotional lift with his team's success.
Mrs. Mihalich had been first diagnosed with cancer in December of 2003 and, at the time, was told by doctors that she might only have a year left to live.
Back then Mihalich spoke emotionally about how much she wanted his team to have success and to watch her son realize his dream with a trip to the NCAA tournament.
And, he did, winning the MAAC tournament to advance to the NCAA event that season.
Two years later, the Mihalich story was told again at the MAAC tournament when Niagara met Siena in the 2007 post-season event's championship game.
The mom of Fran McCaffery, the Siena coach at the time, was also battling cancer. McCaffery and Mihalich grew up together in Philadelphia and played on the same high school team.
And, then, in the mid-2000's, their moms became even closer when they often accompanied each other for their respective cancer treatments. McCaffery's mom, Shirely, passed away in September of 2007.
Mrs. Mihalich, though, continued to beat the odds related to her cancer survival, and was on hand not only for Niagara's two NCAA tournament appearance but also in 2009 when the program set the school's modern record for single-season victories and advanced to the National Invitational Tournament.
Dolores Mihalich used basketball to help brighten her days in recent years and became one of Niagara's most-loyal supporters.
"She loved Niagara basketball, and she loved Niagara University," Joe Mihalich told the Niagara Gazette earlier this week. "She answered the phone every day with `Go Purple Eagles.' "
Mrs. Mihalich's diminishing health meant that Joe Mihalich spent much of the week leading up to his team's game against Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure on Saturday traveling back and forth between Western New York and his mom's Philadelphia home.
But, Mihalich was on the sideline on Saturday for his team's spirited 80-75 loss to the Bonnies, just three days after his mom's passing.
"In some respects, it's the easiest thing to do because she wouldn't want it any other way," Mihalich told the Niagara newspaper. "Whe wouldn't want anyone sitting around feeling sorry for her and she cares about this team. She wouldn't want this team not to be at full strength."
A hospice caregiver told Mihalich recently that his mother's positive spirit had waned and she was losing interest in most daily activities.
"They asked her what she was still interested in," added Mihalich, "and she told them `my kids and Niagara basketball.' "