The Okolona Chieftains were the first team to host an organized “pink” night in support of breast cancer awareness, but they’re not the only athletes who are recognizing October by wearing pink.
Football players, cheerleaders, coaches and many fans all around the nation are flying their colors to help raise awareness of breast cancer and Denise Crape of Okolona helped organize the Chieftains’ “Pink Out Night” Oct. 4.
“They wore pink last year, too,” said Crape, who was recognized by the team in 2012. “I am a two-year breast and cervical cancer survivor. A lot of people in the school and community saw how it affected my boys.”
Crape is the mother of three sons, then ages 18, 14 and 9, who are all involved in sports. Her son, Malcom, was a member of the varsity football team.
“The team wanted others to be aware of it,” Crape said, adding that there was support from, “a lot of people in the community.”
This year, Crape grabbed the bull by the horns to organize the “Pink Out” night, enlisting the support of the Tackle a Cure for Cancer organization. Tackle a Cure is a month-long event designed to raise awareness and provide education about breast cancer that uses football fields as their stage. Sponsors help provide athletes, coaches and managers with pink clothing and accents to wear on the field.
Last year, Crape dyed arm bands and socks pink for the players. This year Tackle a Cure for Cancer provided arm bands, T-shirts, backpacks and caps for the Friday night crew and shirts to be sold to fans.
“They help supply free mammograms for women,” Crape said of the shirt sales.
Crape’s desire to help educate others about breast cancer originated during her personal fight. While she was in treatment, she and her husband were raising three boys, but it wasn’t easy.
“My husband drives trucks and I was trying to finish my degree,” Crape said. “It was a battle, but we kept on pushing.”
Although her older son’s peers understood and supported her in the fight against cancer, she found herself explaining it to younger children. Her youngest son was getting questions about her that he couldn’t answer.
“I went to the elementary school and I had to explain to the kids why I had a bald head,” Crape said.
Now, as she celebrates what she calls, “two years free,” Crape is still trying to help others with the disease.
“I’m now a mentor to a lady,” Crape said. “I heard about her and she heard about me. It’s a hard thing to take but you have to learn to embrace it. Life is what it is.”
Learning about cancer from mom
Okolona coach Adam Dixon escorted his mother, Becky, onto the high school football field prior to the Oct. 4 game where Becky released a bouquet of pink balloons. Becky is a nine-year survivor of breast cancer and Dixon learned more than he wanted to know about the disease by watching her battle.
“When Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, it did not just open my eyes more to breast cancer but to cancer in general,” Dixon said. “I had no real knowledge of what people go through when they have cancer. When I would see her after her treatments, I could tell she felt terrible. She would be a little green, but she was a fighter. She never complained. It made me realize that people who fight this disease are doing just that – fighting.”
Dixon was proud to escort his mother onto the field and encourages more schools to participate in breast cancer awareness.
“I like the idea of pink-outs for what they represent,” Dixon said. “I wish schools did more leading up to the actual games as far as really educating the students and parents about breast cancer.”
Although the athletes that sport the pink are young, they understand what the colors represent and they are proud to show their support for others fighting the battle, even if they don’t know them personally.
“I am wearing pink for all the breast cancer patients and survivors, not one in particular,” said Tyreque Reed of Houlka. “I know having cancer is a hard struggle. I have seen that. Recognizing patients and survivors shows respect and love for the person and recognizes their strength.”
“I’m wearing pink just for support,” said Houston’s Johnta Walker. “Because patients fight hard every day to overcome what they are going through.”
“I’m wearing pink for all of the people that have been diagnosed or died from breast cancer,” said Wes Parker of Houston. “I feel that it is important to recognize breast cancer patients and survivors in order to bring awareness of this disease that strikes so many of our friends and loved ones. By recognizing them, we are showing our support and dedication in joining in their fight.”
Others have specific people in mind when they pull on their pink socks and arm bands.
“I wear my pink for Mrs. Joyce Cook,” said Javarius Jones of Houston. “She’s a breast cancer survivor and she’s been supporting me in sports and other things for years. Even while battling with breast cancer, she still managed to support her children and even me when she didn’t have to. Not everyone survives breast cancer and the ones who do are amazing people in my eyes.”
Chapman Boyer of Houston wears pink for his grandmother and to acknowledge others.
“Everyone on the team has known or either will know someone that has had or will have breast cancer and there is nothing anyone can do to stop that,” Boyer said. “The survivors, whether anyone knows it or not, are some of the strongest, most courageous people on this earth.”
Okolona’s Tyler Hodges said he wears pink to represent Anna Carouthers, “because she is special to me and I care about her and love her,” and Josh Ford has a dual reason.
“To show respect for breast cancer survivors,” Ford said. “And for my mommy because I don’t want her to go through that in her life.”
If wearing pink could prevent breast cancer, the athletes would win the game, but in the meantime, they are helping spread awareness and education, one yard line at a time.