Creating a better world free of the scourge of cancer is what motivated hundreds of Huntington students to turnout for last weekend’s Relay For Life on the Blue Devil athletic fields.
The event raised more than $61,000 for the American Cancer Society, which will use the monies to continue the fight against an insidious disease.
Many people helped make last weekend's Relay For Life a success
About 500 people attended the opening ceremony, which included cancer survivors and their caregivers circling the track behind a Blue Devil marching band color guard unit. Later, everyone joined in and made their way around the oval.
From 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday, 331 students spread across 44 different teams were at the site. Many teachers, staff and community members also participated.
Hope. Courage. Cure. Those three words have motivated students since Huntington’s first Relay For Life. Since that first event more than $975,000 for the American Cancer Society.
This year’s event was chaired by Noah Morris, Meagan Malone and Katie Burton. Andy Ulloa (publicity/social media), Gigi Devoe (luminaria), Jenna Yabroudy (survivorship), Sam Roberts (entertainment) and Riva Bergman (fundraising) handled different aspects of the initiative. Several dozen other students served on the organizing committee.
“I think, despite the weather, this last Relay had a lot of meaningful and special moments,” Mr. Morris said. “We saw the community come together throughout the night, but it was especially evident when we had our luminaria ceremony. I wish the rain had held up, but most people ended up staying anyway, proving the determination of Huntington to fight cancer.”
Teacher Crystal Cass was the organizing committee’s faculty advisor. American Cancer Society representative Morgan Wright also provided assistance. Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack gave his full backing to the initiative and was also on hand for the festivities.
Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky and many Huntington School Board members were also among those turning out for the event, which drew students from several district buildings.
“It was another beautiful, well-run event in Huntington, contributing to an important cause; From the emotional opening ceremony to the team activities and entertainment throughout the night,” Mr. Polansky said. “Thank you to event coordinator Crystal Cass, our buildings and ground crew, student volunteers and all participants!”
Viewing the touchingly inscribed luminaria bags that ringed the track was another experience that could easily cause a person to cry. The bags chronicled in sometimes vivid terms the personal reasons why participants were “relaying,” often citing family and friends brought down by cancer along with expressions of unconditional love and admiration. Many wrote the names of parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and other relatives and close friends.
As darkness descended upon the athletic fields, where tents had been erected, the luminaria were lighted, creating an almost eerie atmosphere. A sense of calm pervaded the area as night took hold in earnest.
“The energy was great,” Ms. Malone said. “The weather did turn on us around 1 a.m., but most people stuck through it and still had a great time.”
As of Sunday night, the top individual fundraisers were Casey Smith ($1,511), Joseph Straub ($1,105), Daniella Fazin ($874), Craig Haas ($739), Ally Kustera ($678), Drew Spina ($660), Mia Brown ($646), Emma Farrell ($528), Joe Cohen ($520) and Anthony Amitrano ($426).
“I think this year’s event was very successful,” Ms. Yabroudy said. “With all the teams, participants and committee members, we all worked together to raise money for a good cause. Even with the rain it was still a fun night where everyone was together. Relay For Life is something I will always remember.”
Each participating team was required to have at least one member on the track walking at all times because “cancer never sleeps.” Some participants covered many miles over the course of the night. When they weren’t walking, students and their adult chaperones were socializing, playing lawn or other types of games, reading, eating or enjoying round-the-clock entertainment.
When the sun went down, portable lights powered by diesel generators illuminated the athletic fields and the Blue Devil Stadium complex. Participants played games on the synthetic turf field while hundreds quietly circled the track through the overnight hours.
When last weekend’s event had concluded at daybreak on Sunday, those who had soldiered on overnight appeared physically and emotionally drained, but as they slowly walked off to waiting vehicles that ferried them home, they felt satisfaction in knowing they had made a difference in the battle against cancer and together with others across the globe brought the world one step closer to defeating the disease once and for all.