HIGHLANDS RANCH - Tracing along a familiar path can help keep memories ripe. At the Mountain Vista High School tennis courts, Susan Cash will always have a presence.
"I walk in Susan's steps every day," tennis head coach Jim Flanigan said. "She laid the foundation for this program for eight years."
The wife of Golden Eagle head football coach Ric Cash, Susan found her niche coaching the sport she grew up playing. During her tenure at Mountain Vista, Susan coached both the boys and girls teams.
"She loved giving what she had gotten from the sport back to others," Ric said. "Sports are kind of a part of our family dynamic, so for her to get into coaching was a pretty natural thing, especially being tennis."
"Susan was very much a relational coach. She was all about her relationships," Flanigan added. "It definitely showed in our program because when I took over four years ago, I could tell there were so many kids who just loved playing tennis and were playing for the relationships that would develop. That was the kind of person that she was."
Susan had played tennis and other competitive sports growing up and all throughout college. Those close to her say she loved her student-athletes more than anything.
"I think coaches sometimes get lost in the wins and losses. Susan never got lost in the wins and losses. She was always about the kids," Flanigan said.
But that didn't mean she wasn't a fighter when life called for it. After beating breast cancer once, it aggressively returned in 2016. Susan returned home with hospice care in July and passed away a few days later.
"I didn't get the opportunity to really say goodbye to her because I thought there'd be more time," Flanigan said. "I just wish there was something that we could do, or in some senses I could do, to let her know how much she meant to the Mountain Vista tennis community."
Flanigan knew the tennis courts at the school were going to get re-finished that year. He spoke with former athletic director Pat McCabe (now at Arapahoe High School) and an idea was born: they would name the courts after Susan.
"I started to talk to parents and the community and everybody thought it was a really good idea to name the tennis center courts after her," Flanigan said.
Flanigan told Cash the plan at Susan's funeral.
"I told Ric we were going to name the tennis facility after her, the Susan Cash Tennis Facility, and I'll never forget his response, because his response was, 'She wouldn't want you to do that, that's not what Susan would want.' And I said, 'That's exactly why we have to do it,'" he said.
"You walk around other public high schools, the schools that have been around for a long, long time and you see somebody's name up on a tennis court or up on a basketball court somewhere and you know there's a story behind it," Ric said. "We're certainly proud that they've thought of us in a way to make us one of those families, one of those groups that will forever be etched in the histories of Mountain Vista."
"There's no way I could've imagined how people would come out to support us, not only her, but our family."
But you can never give back enough to a person who has breathed so much life into a community. Despite never having Susan as its coach, this year's girls' tennis team dedicated its season in her memory. Rather than wear their traditional green and gold uniforms, they would wear pink.
"It's actually been a huge testimony for those who didn't know what happened to Susan," Flanigan said. "A lot of coaches throughout the year have asked me, 'Why are your girls wearing pink? What's the deal with your girls wearing pink?' The answer is always simply, 'Well since Susan passed away, we dedicated the season to her, and we wanted to make sure we played in honor of her the way she would want us to play.'"
In April, the Golden Eagles came together to unveil the new Susan Cash Tennis Center, so her legacy would forever live on.
"Every day, we walk up this hill for practice for football, and so every day, I'll see that sign, so it's a reminder she's not here with us anymore" Ric said of the new plaque on the tennis court fence, "[But] it's a good thing. It's a good thing."
The color pink will be well represented at this week's 2017 state tennis tournament. The Mountain Vista girls' team won its region last week, and all seven positions qualified for state. That means 11 girls will have an opportunity to place.
The Golden Eagles will be competing this week at the Gates Tennis Center in Denver.
Editor's note: Photo of Susan Cash from the "Pink Out" softball game provided for the piece taken by Katie Pickrell, University of Colorado.
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