Staples football players 'in the pink' -- for a cause
Staples High School's Wreckers football players aren't afraid to wear pink -- at least when it's for a good cause.
On Oct. 23, in their home game against Harding High School, the gridiron warriors, who made it to the state championship last year, will be wearing pink receiving gloves to raise awareness about breast cancer.
"I know pink's probably not a favorite color of all of ours, but on that day it will be," said team captain Robert Gau.
The team is also hoping for a "pink out" on that day in the home stands. Players have been helping to make that happen, taking turns selling pink T-shirts ($15) and pink knit gloves ($8) during the high school's three lunch periods each day. Money raised will benefit the charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which supports cancer research programs.
Tammy Zelkowitz, mother of football player Joey Zelkowitz, got the idea for the "Get Your Pink On" campaign after seeing numerous professional sports teams wear pink to draw attention to the cause. She thought if the pros could do it, so too could a high school team. Staples head football coach Marce Petroccio agreed.
While Petroccio has never lost a close relative to breast cancer, he thinks the project is "a great way to do community service for our kids, a great way for the community to get behind an important issue."
Petroccio cannot recall any other high school football team ever doing what the Staples players plan later this month. The pink gloves the players will wear have been donated by Reebok.
Ryan Burke, a running back for the Staples Wreckers, said the Oct. 23 game with be the culmination of the "Get Your Pink On" campaign, so "We have to come out strong."
He added, "We're definitely going to come with an extra push that day and hopefully secure a home victory."
Gau says a win is a must on that special game day. He believes the odds are in Staples' favor.
"Historically, they (Harding) have not played well against us," he said.
Zelkowitz said breast cancer, unlike some diseases, has a face.
"I believe that is one of the reasons why the guys have been so supportive and gung-ho about this campaign," she said. "They see the face of their mother, aunt, grandmother, cousin, teacher, mother of a good friend. There aren't too many families out there that haven't in some way been impacted by the disease."
The Staples team has the fan base to make a "pink out" in the stands come to fruition. Asked why Staples has such a faithful following, Petroccio said it's probably a tribute not only to their success on the field (three state championships in the last decade), but also because the team plays with a tremendous amount of heart and passion, which makes for great athletic contests.
"They're never out of the game, even when we're losing," he said. "We always find a way to come back."
Julie Loparo, the co-chairman of the "Get Your Pink On" campaign, and whose daughter Callie is the assistant football manager, knows what it's like to have breast cancer. She had the cancer removed in February, subsequently underwent chemotherapy and is now being treated with radiation. Loparo said she's thrilled by how the football team has rallied around the campaign and added that Petroccio deserves a lot of credit.
"I think it's great. He's been so gung-ho," she said of the coach.
Zelkowitz added, "He's a strong team leader who believes in his boys and he really brings the best out of them and I think that's why he's so successful as a coach. He respects his team and in return he gets the same."
Burke said the fans probably support he and his teammates as much as they do because they see "our coach brought us up to be good kids and not take anything for granted in life."
But the breast cancer fund-raising isn't limited to the football team and the players' parents. Athletic Shoe Factory is supporting the campaign, taking pre-orders for both the pink T-shirts and gloves through early next week. The cheerleading squad, also wearing pink that day, will sponsor a sale of baked goods on game day.
"I think it's a great way to get a community together, watch a game, promote awareness, raise funds, and I think young men who are soon approaching adulthood should be aware of this disease that affects women," Zelkowitz said.
Anyone who would like to pre-order a T-shirt or pair of gloves to wear at the game -- the items also will be sold on game day -- can e-mail Zelkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.