TOWNSEND -- During their Sept. 18 race against Wachusett Regional High School, the North Middlesex cross-country team members will be running with one person in mind: former teammate Joe Recco.
Recco, of Pepperell, ran cross-country with North Middlesex for three years before graduating in May. About two months after receiving his diploma, Recco was diagnosed with leukemia, spending nearly the entire month of August in the hospital. Recco said he is currently stabilized and out of the hospital, but continues to go into Boston every week for regular check-ups.
"From this point on, it's a little fuzzy. Nothing's definite for the long-term," said Recco, whose goal is to attend Syracuse University as a communications major.
Not long after Recco's diagnosis, Chapel Guarnieri, captain of the girls' cross-country team, was approached by Janice Portlock, coordinator for Coaches vs. Cancer for the American Cancer Society. Coaches Vs. Cancer is a national program that began in 1993 after Norm Stewart, former men's basketball coach at the University of Missouri and a cancer survivor, challenged the team's fans to donate a dollar to cancer research for every three points the team made during the season.
"From there, it just blossomed into a wonderful program in colleges, and last year it started here in New England in all the high schools," said Portlock.
Portlock asked Guarnieri to head a fundraiser for the cross-country team. Guarnieri, who knew of Recco's health struggles, was immediately on board and called the captain of the Wachusett team about dedicating the race to Recco.
Even though they're rivals, "the two teams have always been respectful of each other, supportive of each other. It's just good sportsmanship. They were all for it," said Guarnieri. "It's kind of two teams forgetting about a (rivalry). There will be still a race, but the meaning will be more important."
Recco said that although it's not confirmed yet whether he can make it, he hopes to be able to attend.
"I feel honored that they would think of me. It was overwhelming when I was told the news (about the race) and it was heartwarming. I felt that people I had run with in the past, that they continued to be friends," he said.
Guarnieri, the boys' cross-country captain Bobby Johnston and the opposing team will be asking for $5 donations from attendees of the race. It is not a mandatory charge, but she feels confident that people will donate.
"People are always so generous when it comes to stuff like this," she said.
Last year, Massachusetts raised a total of $100,000 for the program, according to Portlock. Although the cross-country team does not have a set goal they hope to reach, they will take whatever is given.
"Every dollar counts," said Portlock.
Although some of the school's other sports teams will also be holding their own Coaches Vs. Cancer fundraisers, cross-country will be kicking it off. It's the first year for this team to be holding this fundraiser. Although Coaches Vs. Cancer donations go towards general cancer research, Guarnieri said teams can request that their amount go to a specific type; her team will be putting it towards leukemia research.
Still, even if attendees can't afford a donation, Guarnieri said it shouldn't dissuade them from coming to the race.
"It still means a lot if they can show up just to show support," she said.
The race will be at 4 p.m. at the Hawthorne Brook Middle School in Townsend.