As he walked to midfield for the pre-game coin toss, many things ran through the mind of John Eatherton. The Quakertown Community High School senior and football team captain was holding the hands of two young boys, each in the midst of a battle with cancer.
“It makes you view life very differently,” John said. “The kids are going through so much, and you can’t imagine the strength it must take for them each day. They’re so young. I remember starting to play football at their age and they can’t do that. You want to somehow give them hope that they can be out there. Maybe they look up to you and you don’t want to let them down. We want to be role models. Be somebody they can look up to.”
For the last decade, the Panthers have dedicated a home game each year to Childhood Cancer Awareness Night and raised money for local families suffering through the challenges of having a child with the dreaded disease.
“We’re taking care of our own, our students, our town, our community,” Coach George Banas said. “We’re supporting them. They’re suffering, they’re fighting. We want to let them know we’re here for them.”
The football team isn’t alone in QCSD in celebrating Childhood Cancer Awareness. The district has established a culture of giving, with Mini-THON and other sports teams holding fundraisers to aid local families. The work instills character building and turns students into responsible adults.
“This is so much bigger than just football,” Coach Banas said. And it’s become a personal agenda item for him following the death of his nephew, Parker Lutz, to neuroblastoma.
“It’s always part of the pre-game speech,” he said. “Unfortunately, some kids are no longer with us. Others are coming up and would love to be on the field with us and can’t be. We’re playing not just for ourselves but for those kids. When our players walk onto the field with those kids, I know it has a special meaning for them.”
Brett Hileman, like John Eatherton, had a youngster’s hand in each of his for the coin toss. Brett, a senior linebacker and captain, gave the pre-game speech in an end zone huddle where the words “get everybody fired up. But there was so much emotion for this one. Everyone knew we were not out there for ourselves. We wanted to put on a show for those kids and let them live their dreams through us.”
Kate Derstine, a senior Student Section Leader, said the Alumni Field atmosphere is different on Childhood Cancer Awareness Night. “More students show up, and everyone’s amped up to support the cause,” she said. “The moment of silence is really emotional when the names of students who passed away are read. Everyone is super serious and felt it. There were a lot of tears.”
QCHS Band Director Frank Parker said each year you see Coach Banas wearing that special shirt on behalf of his nephew and the significance of the evening doesn’t go unnoticed. “We’re happy to be a small part of a great night,” he said.
The game against Souderton, the 309 Bowl, did not go the Panthers’ way in a 34–20 final. As Coach Banas said, “We played for a better cause, a bigger cause.”
John Eatherton, the team captain, said “I know we lost but I promise you we never gave up. We didn’t give up because those kids, they’re not giving up.”