Today, before rushing the field for their game against Hudson, North Middlesex Regional football players will be donning their pink bracelets, tying their pink laces and gathering inspiration from the wall of pink cards taped up in the locker room.
Each card will bear the name of someone who has donated to cancer research or someone who has suffered from cancer. The game tonight will be played not just to win, but to bring awareness to the battle that millions of people have faced and are facing against the disease.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the team will be playing the game for Coaches vs. Cancer, a campaign run by the American Cancer Society that enables high school and college sports teams to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.
"(The players) realize the game is more than just a regular football game -- it's for a purpose," said Janice Portlock, coordinator for Coaches vs. Cancer for the American Cancer Society.
Portlock approached football coach Sandy Ruggles about using the game as an opportunity to raise funds for the American Cancer Society research. Ruggles was all for it, coming up with the idea for the wall of inspiration.
"We all know somebody who has been affected by cancer," said Ruggles. "There's so much awareness. October has really become known as the month for awareness. I think it's a great opportunity for a cooperative effort. It's an opportunity to play with a purpose."
"And then the kids are involved in buying clothing and pink stuff to wear during the game," said Ruggles.
The coach said he did not have to do any persuading to get the team members on board with the plan.
"The seniors were very receptive to doing it. It's been encouraging to see their awareness. So often we think teenagers don't care, but kids do care and this a good exmaple of kids stepping up to the plate," he said.
Although this month is typically devoted to breast cancer awareness, the money raised from the football team will be going to cancer research in general. However, the cheerleading squad is also participating in their annual "Pink Week," a fundraising effort whose proceeds will be going to the American Cancer Society's Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign. The fundraiser is directed by the squad's coach, Barbara Guerriero.
"During lunches we sell pink items from a quarter all the way up to $5 -- stickers, ribbons, keychains, charms for bracelets, T-shirts, a lot of things," she said.
"It's important to show people with breast cancer that you actually care," said cheerleader Kevina Banks.
The squad also hosts a bake sale with pink baked goods and conducts games with the other students during lunch to get them involved and excited. The first year, the squad raised $1,000. Last year, they raised $3,000.
"This year, we're trying to beat that," said Guerriero.
Then, during the game, the cheerleaders will be casing the bleachers, collecting donations from spectators. Those funds will go towards Coaches vs. Cancer and the amount collected by the football team.
"Any kind of cancer touches a lot of people's lives," said cheerleader Tory Cummings. "Anything we can do to help is just awesome."
For Guerriero, Ruggles and Portlock, the purpose and inspiration behind the game goes beyond donating to a good cause. Portlock said her best friend is currently battling breast cancer. Guerriero lost a cousin to the same disease. Both Guerriero and Ruggles had a colleague who battled it as well. Since then, said Guerriero, the school and its students have rallied to extend a hand where they can.
"In this school, the kids do nothing but give. They help each other, they donate to the cause. I'm a proud coach, I can tell you that much. I'm very proud to be at this school," she said. "(The abbreviation) NM doesn't stand for 'not me.' Whatever this school can do, everyone in this shcool will put their best foot forward."
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