Baseball players go bald for cancer cause
BLACKSBURG — A giant pile of hair sat on the floor of the Virginia Tech Baseball Development Center on Monday night.
For most people, this likely wouldn’t be the most appealing of sights, but for the members of the Hokies baseball program, it signified another year of rallying for one of their most beloved teammates and their support of a cause much larger than themselves.
Thirty-five players, the coaching staff and a handful of community members made up the 51 people who shaved their heads as a part of the team’s third-annual Shave for the Brave, a fundraising effort that raised more than $34,500 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in honor of their adopted teammate, 12-year-old Levi Brown.
Levi, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a highly malignant primary brain tumor, in 2004, officially joined the Hokies in 2008 as a part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, Levi’s mother Melina Brown said.
When the team heard that Brown shaved her head as a part of the 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave campaign in 2010, she said they were quick to join in the effort and began raising pledges for their own haircuts.
Brown said the players raised $500 the first year, $5,000 the next, and this year they set the goal of raising $25,000. Between Sunday night and Monday, they raised about $7,000 more, pushing their total toward $35,000.
“Amazing, I love these kids,” Brown said.
The effort was held in conjunction with the team’s 19 Ways program, which challenges each player to find 19 ways to make a difference throughout the academic year. The number 19, which head baseball coach Pete Hughes also wears, is in honor of Hughes’ late mother, Alice Hughes.
In order to accomplish this feat, the individuals participating reached out to family, friends and anyone who would listen via social media channels for pledges.
The group also had a few non-attached donations, such as the one from head football coach Frank Beamer, who Hughes said via Twitter on Monday afternoon donated $1,919.19 to the cause in honor of the 19 Ways program.
While excited to be donating such a large sum of money to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Brown said she was also proud of the awareness the players were bringing to the cause.
“Our kids need awareness,” she said. “One in 330 kids is diagnosed with cancer, and out of those, one in five die.”
Brown said the foundation is largely considered the leader in the fight against childhood cancer and that 100 percent of the money they raise goes directly to that fight.
Shining the light on the issue of childhood cancer is something senior pitcher Joe Mantiply has become accustomed to during his tenure with the Hokies. Monday marked the third occasion Mantiply has had his head buzzed for his 12-year-old teammate, and he couldn’t have seemed happier for round three.
“You know, Levi’s been around since I was a freshman, so he’s almost like become a little brother in some ways,” Mantiply said.
He hoped such efforts showed children such as Levi that they are not alone and that he and his teammates wanted to do whatever they could to help one day find a cure.
It seemed Levi, who is now cancer free, was enjoying his bond with the team as he grinned ear to ear and said he really liked the players. He admitted that for now he doesn’t have a specific position on the team. He just considers himself more of an all-around player for the squad.
While that team bond has helped Levi and raised money, Hughes said his favorite part of the event was seeing how it impacts his players.
“These guys, they love Levi, … and they understood what he’s gone through,” Hughes said. “For them to tie themselves and their energy for such an important cause … tells you they’re more than just Division I jocks, they care about bigger issues in this world.”
With that concern for the big picture in mind, one might easily see how a pile of old hair could be viewed as a spectacular sight.
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