Back in 2010, David Bayer was excited to read that a Women's Professional Soccer team was coming to his hometown of Atlanta.
He had never been a big soccer fan, but he was always looking for new activities and sporting events to attend with his daughter Emma, then 3 years old.
Before the Atlanta Beat had even played a game, Bayer wrote a letter to midfielder McCall Zerboni to request a photo and autograph for Emma. He included a snapshot of his daughter.
"I was instantly captured by the photo," Zerboni said. "[Emma] reminded me of myself: blonde and loved soccer and [had] a great bright smile and radiance to her eyes."
A few weeks later Bayer and his wife, Carey, took Emma to a Beat event at a local festival. When Zerboni saw the little girl approaching, she immediately recognized her and yelled, "Emmaaaa" before giving her a big hug.
Zerboni and the Bayers have since formed what promises to be a lifelong friendship. It is a bond that has grown stronger through a charity they've organized to raise money for breast cancer research.
"That connection between [Emma and Zerboni] was instantaneous," Carey Bayer said. "We, as a family, started to see her more often; we were at all the games and Dave started volunteering with the team."
The Bayers started taking Zerboni out with them for family dinners, to the ballet and Disney on Ice, even to Emma's birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese. Emma -- or Emmers, as Zerboni calls her -- quickly became like a little sister and the Bayers her Atlanta family.
"I was away from my family seven or eight months out of the year," Zerboni said. "To feel like I had a family in the city where I was living was so valuable to me. ... It was just a really good sense of home for me away from home."
One night when they were all out to dinner, the Bayers noticed Zerboni's tattoo of a breast cancer awareness symbol with butterfly wings. The ink was a tribute to her biggest fan, her aunt Stephanie Huffaker, who had recently lost her battle with breast cancer. The wheels began turning in David Bayer's head, and he decided to do something to honor Stephanie and help Zerboni in the fight against breast cancer.
"I literally just mentioned it once in passing over dinner," Zerboni said. "Since then it was something [the Bayers] took deep into their hearts because it was deep to mine. They came up with a great idea to raise money for breast cancer."
In October 2010, the Bayers worked with Zerboni to get autographed memorabilia from members of the Beat and raised $300 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure at an auction during a local breast cancer awareness festival.
Zerboni signed with the Western New York Flash in late 2010, but she and the Bayers kept in touch via emails, phone calls and the occasional visit. They remained determined to continue their efforts to support breast cancer research.
The second time around, David wanted to do something a little more exciting to grab the attention of would-be bidders. Remembering the publicity caused by Brandi Chastain's bra-baring celebration at the 1999 World Cup, he decided to hold a weeklong eBay auction of sports bras decorated and signed by women's professional soccer players. All 84 bras sold, earning $4,400 for Komen for the Cure.
The suspension of WPS for the 2012 season hasn't stopped Zerboni's ambition and drive to help others. While she is staying in the New York area, working and trying to find a team, she and the Bayers have expanded the "MZ & Emmers Sports Bra Auction for Breast Cancer." This spring it will include female athletes across all sports worldwide. From race car drivers to volleyball players to actress/exercise legend Jane Fonda to Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton -- and, of course, Chastain herself -- they've already received more than 200 sports bras for this year's auction.
Carey Bayer, a former soccer player, loves her husband's dedication to the charity and his newfound love for the beautiful game.
"If you had talked to him before the Beat came here, he wouldn't have anything to do with soccer," she said. "Now he's watching all the games and he knows all the stats. He and Emma even have a column in the online soccer magazine Our Game."
David is currently unemployed, so working on articles with Emma and spearheading the sports bra auction gives him purpose as he's searching for a new gig.
"Instead of just sitting around my house and moping, I'm trying to do something for other people," he said.
David has been working to get ready for the auction's April 7 start date, contacting athletes, checking in each item and adding a picture to the auction's Facebook page.
The MZ and Emmers Sports Bra Auction for Breast Cancer will be the feature charity for the month of April on eBay's Giving Works page. All of the money raised will go to three different breast cancer charities: a Komen branch in California where Zerboni's family lives; Keep A Breast Foundation, a charity focused on researching breast cancer in younger women, and an Atlanta breast cancer survivors network.
Zerboni said meeting the Bayers was truly a blessing, and she's embraced the opportunity to remember her aunt by helping others.
"I think she'd be really proud," Zerboni said. "She showed a lot of dedication to me, to get to all my games and support me. She was a single mother with my little cousin, and no matter what she had going on she always made it to my games. So I know she's looking down on me and my dedication and I just want to make her proud, not only on the soccer field and what I do in life, but definitely with this."
Emma, now 5, doesn't really understand breast cancer, but she knows she's helping people. While she's not old enough for a sports bra of her own, she will be decorating one for the auction.
From little Emma to the legendary Billie Jean King, who also donated items for the auction, women of all ages are stepping up to do their part to fight a disease that has touched us all. For Zerboni, it's truly awe-inspiring.
"Realizing the power of love that can unite everyone to come together to do this, it's awesome," she said.