The scene was set on Friday at Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in downtown Lancaster for the annual St. Baldrick’s Day: the deck was open for a sea of green shirts to swoop in and take advantage of spring’s beaming sun; the scent of cigarette smoke and talc powder was swirling through the air; and barbers were steady at their stools with their hands firmly grasped on their weapon-of-choice.
Now, there was only one thing left to do: “Let’s cut some hair!”
Those words from emcee Meredith Jorgensen, of WGAL-8, initiated a daylong head-shaving event, held by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to raise money for childhood cancer awareness, treatment and research. In total, the 249 participants raised $82,878, making it the largest childhood cancer fundraising event in Pennsylvania. Out of 27 teams, Millersville’s own football team rounded out the top 10 contributors with $3,107 raised.
The hair began to fly at 1 p.m., with eight courageous men and ultra-courageous women cycling onto the stools every 10 minutes. By the end of each timeslot, bushy hair, purple hair, frizzy hair—you name it—had littered the ground. And, by 2 p.m., the Marauders rolled in, being welcomed like celebrities by Jorgensen and the full-headed onlookers.
“There was a lot of cheering and laughter,” Jeff Richter, the spearhead to all-things-off-the-field for the MU football program as well as the offensive line coach, said about the lively environment.
Whether they came to get a free haircut or help out with cleanup duties, the Millersville student-athletes quickly filled the already congested building to do their duty. The long line of Millersville t-shirts slowly crept along as each Marauder bid adieu to their head of hair. Once the flood of black and gold had finally drained, 40 football players, respectively, found themselves bald for the sake of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s efforts to expunge childhood cancers.
“It was a very selfless thing that they did,” Richter lauded.
It all began with Neil Moloney, a senior who combats burley defensive linemen as a student-athlete before he combats flames at his day-job as a firefighter. His firehouse, Richter explained, is heavily involved with St. Baldrick’s; therefore, Moloney spread the word to his teammates.
“He was a big influence,” Richter said about the galvanization of the team through the charity event. “He took the lead on a lot of stuff.”
Moloney, the St. Baldrick’s team captain, paved the way for a plethora of Marauders to raise money for the foundation. Sixteen Marauders, in the end, contributed at least $25. Seven of those, however, exceeded expectations with at least $100: Moloney ($100); tight-end Jared Bliss ($200), offensive lineman Michael Fitzpatrick ($203), cornerback Patrick Santos ($325), head coach Greg Breitbach ($325), quarterback Connor Casey ($525) and tight-end Trenton Petrovich ($1,052).
Yes, $1,052—and, to climb to that number, the 6-foot-5 senior had one woman to thank: his momma.
“I really have a lot to thank for my mom,” Petrovich said, explaining how she spread the word every day via Facebook as well as put out a collection jar at a diner in his Lower Dauphin County hometown. Not only that, but his grandfather also collected for him by keeping his own collection jar while working at a steel mill in Steelton, Pa.
“Petrovich did an amazing, amazing job,” said Richter.
Then Petrovich had to put his money where his, well, money was, as over half of the football team went through with shaving their heads underneath the scorching sun that hovered over the Annie Bailey’s deck area.
“I was kinda nervous at first what I would look like,” he said; but, having family members who have gone through chemotherapy before, he knew the decision was a no-brainer.
“I couldn’t imagine what it would be like,” he said. “It’s just so hard to see a young child to go through that.”
The particular child Petrovich and the football team sponsored, Teddy E., has been diagnosed with a “brain or spinal cord tumor,” according to the team’s St. Baldrick’s webpage, in November, 2013. At only three years old, the Kansas City, Mo. native has been treated at The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia as well as The Children’s Mercy Hospital, and is still being treated today.
“If he starts doing better, we’ll like him to come meet the players and get involved,” Richter said, inviting Teddy to Biemesderfer Stadium when he recuperates. Until then, however, days like this will give hope for more extensive research to help facilitate the treatment of kids just like Teddy.
The event organizer, William Nonnemacher, knew how that process went all-too-well.
Diagnosed with brain cancer also at the age of three, Nonnemacher went through the similar perils of childhood cancer as Teddy. After a year of treatment, Nonnemacher was cancer-free. Years later, he started getting involved in reciprocating the deed through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s largest event in Pennsylvania.
“The fact that some small Lancaster city is doing something so awesome, it’s pretty cool,” he said.
Not only was 2014 the seventh year of Nonnemacher putting together this “mega event,” he has shaved his head every year since 2004—but not a year goes by that he doesn’t miss his curly brown locks.
“I really don’t like shaving my hair,” he said. “I know my head is going to be cold for the next couple weeks.”
But when the cold April breeze hits his freshly shaved scalp, Nonnamacher insists it is all worth it in the end: “It’s for a good cause,” he said.
After all, “It’s only hair,” he frankly added.
Plus, alluding to the droves of women that also hop on the stools to shave their full head of hair, he realized he had it easy.
“That’s a bigger deal,” he conceded.
One of those women was the emcee, herself, who wasn’t given a choice whether to shave her hair or not two years ago.
“It’s a fundraising effort close to my heart,” Jorgensen said. “I spent the last two St. Baldrick’s Days bald due to chemotherapy.”
The fan-favorite reporter for NBC’s local Susquehanna Valley station had been diagnosed with Gestational Trophoblastic disease, a type of uterine cancer, in 2012. For a year-and-a-half, Jorgensen went through vigorous treatment to combat the illness.
“Finding out I was sick was daunting,” she said. “Losing your hair … is devastating. It hurts more than you think it would.”
Now, however, she is teeming with a newfound liveliness, now being cancer-free for the first St. Baldrick’s Day in three years—and, not to mention, a newfound appreciation.
“For these people, this is voluntary,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”
When it comes to participating in the head-shaving portion of the fundraiser, however, her less-than-a-year-worth of blond hair is here to stay.
“I paid my dues, I am done!” Jorgensen joked with one of the participants. “I will make a donation.”
For the Millersville football team, this has been just the beginning of their work with the St. Baldrick’s Day foundation. This sort of charitable activity, however, was a paradigm for what Millersville has been striving for throughout their offseason, with the help of Breitbach’s competition-based formula for off-the-field service, “Marauder Scholar.”
The program consists of 10 teams—one for each coach—which compete for the most points earned at the end of every week, whether it’s from attending to class regularly or giving back to the community.
“It’s a great way to compete off the field,” Richter, the Marauder Scholar coordinator, said. “We want … our guys to become complete people, not just complete student-athletes.”
Thanks to Marauder Scholar, the football team has accumulated over 1,400 community service hours since the fall season, with Friday’s event being the largest of two during spring ball.
The first of which came April 5, where they participated with the University’s Center for Student Involvement and Leadership’s “Into the Streets” program. On that Friday, they traded their football gloves for gardening gloves to spend the day landscaping Lancaster City’s Buchanan Park.
Richter cited other community-building activities like players helping out with recess at elementary schools, youth football camps and even packaging dog food at the Humane Society.
In the end, Marauder Scholar has been a successful program that has been beneficial in every way possible: giving back to the community all while bonding as a group.
“It was a great team-building activity, plus it was for a great cause,” Richter said.
Because of the collaboration of MU football along with the other 26 teams, Annie Bailey’s and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the 175,000 kids diagnosed with cancer each year may be on a faster track to remission. And, hey, maybe you’ll be able to see Teddy on Chryst Field at Biemesderfer Stadium once the regular season rolls around next fall.
He could certainly be the ‘lucky charm’ the Marauders need in 2014.