By SARAH DOOLITTLE
Four Points News
Vandegrift hosted its annual Pink Out event to raise money and awareness for breast cancer on Oct. 14. The game, against rival Vista Ridge, was themed “Two Schools, One Cause” in honor of those affected by breast cancer.
Steiner Ranch resident Andy Giles lost his wife, Laurie, to an aggressive form of breast cancer on May 14, 2011. Their children, Meagan, now 24, and Mark, now 19, were active in the community at the time of the loss of their mother.
Giles, a longtime resident, explains that before Vandegrift was completed in 2009 and VHS students were still attending classes at Four Points Middle School, football trainer Stephanie Cunningham started the tradition of passing a football helmet at a designated game to raise money for breast cancer research.
In time, “It grew and blossomed, and we kind of got together and helped out,” explained Giles. “We were starting a lot of new traditions at Vandegrift, trying to figure out how could we commemorate, how could we celebrate,” those affected by breast cancer.
At the time they partnered with the Susan G. Komen foundation, and at the beginning of the designated game, one player would run out with the American flag, then another with a pink flag from the Komen Foundation. Throughout the game they would announce breast cancer statistics and information, then pass the helmet at halftime. This formed the foundation for what became known as Pink Out.
At the time, the family was very involved with sports at VHS. “Laurie was the team photographer for football and basketball,” in addition to both Andy and Laurie being involved in the athletics boosters. Once she was diagnosed and even after she died, the family continued to participate in Pink Out.
Giles supports Pink Out by donating t-shirts though his company, ESTECT Solutions, which attendees can shoot into the crowd using a t-shirt cannon if they make a minimum $20 donation.
Now that his kids have grown, Giles is motivated to participate in Pink Out in memory of his wife and, “I’m really doing this to continue to ‘pay it forward’ for all the help we got from everyone,” during Laurie’s illness. “To help and stay part of it and stay included.”
The Key Club at VHS has taken over the organization and running of the event, overseen by Kirsten Mulligan, Key Club sponsor and AP English teacher.
“I have been involved with Pink Out since my first year at VHS six years ago as Key Club sponsor,” said Mulligan. “I love that people from all parts of the VHS community come together to make such an impact. We appreciate the chance to honor those who have be affected by breast cancer,” including Mulligan’s mother, a 40 year survivor of breast cancer.
Besides Friday night’s football game, the whole previous week at VHS was dedicated to awareness through theme days like “Fight Cancer… wear camouflage” and “Pink Out… wear pink for breast cancer awareness.”
For the game itself, this year varsity football player Michael Zabatino was chosen to carry the pink flag onto the field in honor of his three aunts, who all survived breast cancer.
Donations from passing the bucket at halftime and for the right to fire the t-shirt cannon were all then given directly to representatives from the Seton Breast Care Center, the event’s beneficiary.
Fundraising is part of Pink Out, but for Mulligan, “A particular dollar amount raised is never my end goal. I want to honor people I care about and people I don’t even know. I want our students to work for a cause that is bigger than themselves. I want our students to feel the power of volunteering and service.”
Breast cancer is estimated to affect one in eight women in the U.S. As Giles has learned in the wake of his wife’s death, “The more you talk to people, you find out that a sister, a mother, an aunt, that everybody’s been touched,” by breast cancer. “It’s certainly widespread and a lot of people I think want to get involved… (Pink Out) is a way of bringing the community closer.”