Panthers bring community together in childhood cancer fight

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.”