Members of the St. Stephens High School football team lost hair and gained unity last week in honoring a family member of one of their teammates.
The father of tight end Zach Bumgarner is undergoing treatments for cancer. In light of the battle, half of the players on the squad decided to honor the man who has attended every one of their games this season despite the toll the disease has taken on him.
It all started with an early-week talk on Monday with Zach's dad, David Bumgarner, about his ongoing and previous battles.
"I think it meant a lot to the kids," said Indians coach Fred Whalen. "He talked about his first bout with cancer, which started in college. That was a little more relatable to the kids on where they are. That was the first time he had cancer. He spoke to the kids about what it was like being that young and having cancer, as well as the impact it had on his life. It had an impact on the kids listening to it."
Inspired by what they heard, two football players — Nathan Hege and Logan Gray — shaved their heads down to mohawks and dyed them pink. Hege even shaved a ribbon into the back of his head, which he also colored.
"We just started out making our mohawks pink for cancer," Hege said. "Logan decided to get a mohawk, but I decided to shave a breast cancer ribbon in the back of my head. It just kind of escalated from there."
The idea sparked among the remainder of the Indians to do something special for Bumgarner and others who have been affected by cancer.
Last Thursday, the day before St. Stephens' game against North Buncombe, Zach brought an electric razor, shaving the heads of half of the Indians football squad.
"It was a good experience sitting around, laughing with the team," said Dale Huffman, a running back and defensive linemen on the team. "It was cool seeing who got their heads shaved and who didn't. We convinced a bunch of them, too. It was good seeing us come together."
Lineman Brandon Grant said the experience helped to unify the team.
"We did it for a good cause obviously," Grant said. "It pulled us all together. We all sit on the bench together. Not only do you look at Zack's dad, but everyone that has been in the fight and battle against cancer."
Zach said the experience has been uplifting for him and his family.
"It makes me feel good that people care about my dad," Zach said. "Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. It helps give each other support. Just knowing people are there for you and your teammates are there, I think it helped us out on Friday night."
The Indians, together more than ever, took down North Buncombe on Friday during the school's annual "Cancer Night," marking the team's third win of the season. The school also raised $600 for various cancer-related charities.
Zach said he hopes future teams will maintain the head-shaving tradition.
"I hope the juniors step up and keep it going," Zach said. "I think it would meant a lot because you never know whose family member might have cancer."