By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph parents and students can expect a tie-dye crowd at Friday’s football game.
Tie-dye shirts are being sold as part of an effort that several boosters and school faculty members are calling Team Up Against Cancer. The collaborative effort between staff and students is a way to raise money and increase cancer awareness.
On Friday, various St. Joseph football players will suit up with different names on the back of their jerseys.
The jerseys are special because they will be sponsored jerseys, which allow students to play in memory or in support of friends and loved ones. After the game, players are expected to give away their jerseys to the people or families that are being represented.
St. Joseph schools Athletic Director Kevin Guzzo said the high school has had a pink game the last two years. However, the rejuvenated effort in 2016 will focus on the fight for the “overall battle against cancer.”
“We have been selling these tie-dye shirts to the community within our district since August,” Guzzo said. “The district is allowing anyone who wears those shirts to get into events for free this week. All schools are doing a pep rally to bring more awareness.”
While the pink jerseys are a way to fight breast cancer, which will be the focus of a nation in October, the tie-dye shirts are a way to acknowledge all forms of cancer.
Amy Groom, a booster mom whose son also plays on the football team, said the effort intensified because of Denise Bohn-Stewart.
“She’s been a force behind it the last couple of years,” Groom said of Bohn-Stewart, who was murdered in April. As a breast cancer survivor, the popular radio show host was known for her work in the fight against breast cancer. “Denise and I had worked together for the last two years and we were planning to go bigger and to broaden the scope a little bit. (Denise’s) vision was to educate people.”
Groom and other community members approached the school district’s administration last spring with the idea. There are only a few tie-dye shirts left, which Groom said will be sold at Friday’s game.
Fundraising a cure
All proceeds raised from the fundraising effort from the T-shirt sales, jersey sponsors and vendors at the game will go to three local organizations.
These organizations include Marie Yeager Cancer Center, Berrien County Cancer Services and Susan G. Komen of Michigan. Bohn-Stewart was a representative for Susan G. Komen.
Groom said they have not set a goal because this is their first year raising funds.
“As years go by, we want this to become a bigger event,” Groom said. “We want to honor those who have made the fight against any type of cancer at any age.”
Guzzo said local vendors are going to be at the game, where sale proceeds will also go to the cause. Gates to the stadium will open early at 5 p.m. for the Friday event.
Prior to the game’s start, there will be a cancer walk with survivors and others struggling with the disease. Following the game and midfield will be the jersey exchange.
Team Up Against Cancer is meant to be a community-wide event, rather than school-oriented. However, all five St. Joseph schools had assemblies throughout the week in preparation for Friday’s game.
Kevin Jones, a senior, spoke to his fellow students during a Wednesday assembly at the high school. Jones was diagnosed with brain cancer about three years ago and was deemed unable to play football.
Since he was diagnosed cancer-free two years ago, Jones has played his part on the sidelines with the Bears as he encouraged the student body to help support the team – and the cause – Friday.
“I didn’t have vision in my left eye, which meant if I looked at someone, I would see double,” Jones recalled during the assembly. “Even though I can’t play a contact sport anymore, I’m still part of the team.”
Erica Heathcote, a student who dabbles in videography, began making a video that involved district faculty in August. She was approached by Superintendent Ann Cardon for making the video.
Earlier this week, Cardon told school board members that they were asked to make a video – similar to what Lowell Public Schools does.
The Lowell school district has become known over the years for taking its pink event to another level, which includes making a video every year.
After Heathcote was shown an example, she went to work. Choreographing the Fleetwood Mac song “Don’t Stop,” Heathcote went to each school in the district and filmed various staff members doing something goofy.
“I think the song was a good choice because it definitely has a good message behind it,” Heathcote said. “I knew it was for a good cause, but I personally haven’t done anything with the program before. It was cool to be a part of that.”