ATHENS — Canton and Athens have long been rivals on the football field. Whenever the two teams hook up, you know you’re in for a hard-fought contest.
When they play on Sept. 20, though, the two squads will be on the same team and fighting a common foe.
September is National Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, and on that date, the teams will be playing a Gold Out game and playing for a very specific purpose.
Two young Athens students have been diagnosed with cancer, and the two school communities are coming together to lend a hand to families in need.
The organizers know a thing or two about the topic. Tracy Weldy’s daughter Cora and Michelle Ward’s son Timmy were diagnosed with cancer and are in remission.
Chris Weldy is a Social Studies teacher at Athens.
“I think Chris knew about it because we’ve already done a few things for the families through the Athens School District,” said Athens High School Principal Corey Mosher. “Our teachers have been heavily involved in trying to help them out any way they can, whether that be with transportation, financially, and just being there for them. I’m sure Chris knew about those efforts and told his wife about it.
“Tracy Weldy from Team CORAgeous had contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to come together to help the families out. Would you be willing to do something with one of your home games?’ It kind of evolved to Sept. 20 on our homecoming weekend. We play Canton.”
Mosher said that after talking with superintendents from both schools, both were all for coming together to help the families out.
“It’s amazing what can happen when two districts come together for a common cause.”
Of course, Athens-Canton was the perfect setting in part because of Canton athlete Timmy Ward, who was diagnosed last year. That’s how Timmy Ward Strong got into the act.
“Tracy Weldy has done a lot of the leg work,” said Mosher. “She reached out to Michelle Ward and they got the ball rolling.”
With the aid of those two organizations, the event has evolved from a small operation to a much more comprehensive effort.
“We started with gold socks for the players and gold bows for the cheerleaders,” said Mosher. “From there it evolved into a penny war between the districts leading up to the game.”
The school that raises the most wins an ice cream party.
It has evolved in just a couple of weeks, and everyone has jumped at the chance to come in and help out.
“(Athens Superintendent Craig) Stage said he would take the gate from that night and split it between the families to help them out financially,” said Mosher. “There will be a 50/50, and we’re selling shirts ahead of time in both districts. We’re also going to push that out to the communities in case community members want to buy the shirts ahead of time.”
To Athens Head Coach Jack Young, i’s all about community.
“I think what makes this special is Cora and Timmy. You couldn’t ask for two better role models,” said Young. “For us to be part of that is pretty special. If we can help, not just these two families in our community; if we can continue to teach lessons to our young people about what’s really important in life, give it to me. I’ll jump in with both feet.
“We have a great relationship with Coach Sechrist and Canton. I can promise you our guys will come and give it everything they have and Canton will do the same. It’s also going to be our homecoming game, so I’m hoping our community just takes off with it and we can help these two families out the best way we can. Hopefully, both school communities can continue to learn. It just blows my mind, in these situations, as difficult as they are, how these communities come together and how they pay it forward.”
“It’s very difficult no matter how mentally tough you are just because it beats the crap out of you and you can’t do anything about it,” said Timmy Ward. “It feels great to give back. Honestly, just to know that you’re helping people who went through the same thing that you did feels great.”
“Its always great to help people out, but this means a lot more after what Timmy’s gone through the last year,” said Canton Head Coach Tyler Sechrist. “I think we all have a better understanding of what these kids are going through and what the parents and family are going through. We’re excited and happy to help out to raise raise funds and do whatever we can to help and support these children.”
Tracy Weldy said that the organizers are going big.
“We’re putting everything into this game,” said Weldy. “We’re very excited to not only raise money but to come together. We need money, but there’s also something about having the support of your whole community behind you continuing.”
Michelle Ward spoke about the importance of support.
“While receiving it, it’s very hard to receive. It’s so easy to give, I’d do it a million times,” said Michelle Ward. “For me, it was, ‘okay, how can I repay all of this.’ I could send a million thank you cards, and it’s just not the same. This is our way to start giving back to everyone who gave to us and then some. Being able to help those kids who are in the same position as Timmy and recognizing and knowing what they are currently going through is a big deal.”
Weldy said that donations are being accepted.
“We would welcome businesses that would like to offset costs,” said Weldy. “The group will have to purchase the gold socks, gold bows and biodegradable balloons to be released at halftime. Any businesses that would like to jump in would be greatly appreciated. Anyone who isn’t planning to come to the game but like to contribute, we would absolutely take those donations.”
Weldy added that there will be a bake sale, and there will be other things available for a monetary donation.
“They’ll be competing, but they’ll be competing for one cause in this case. Moving forward there will be more diagnoses, and I want more people to reach out and help. It doesn’t even have to be money. It just has to be the support. There is something reassuring in knowing that there are people behind you to help you.”
The Athens Area School District will be putting a form on its Facebook page for those who would like to order shirts ahead of time.
“I think both school districts are here for kids,” said Mosher. “When we see our kids and families struggling, we always want to reach out and help any way possible. It means a lot to come together as two communities for a greater and bigger cause. We can use athletics to help support that.”
“Any personal donations may be made to the Athens Area School District, and then we will present each family with those donations,” said Mosher. “Please make sure you note in the memo line what the donation is for. We hope to see everyone come out and support these families and our football teams as they battle on the gridiron for a common purpose – help Stomp Out Cancer!”