Next Tuesday, March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, but you won’t find one group of more than 60 Wilton High School students out chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead, you’ll find them in the high school cafeteria at 6:30 p.m., getting ready to shave their heads.
They’ll be doing it to raise money to fund pediatric cancer research, as part of an international fundraising effort in support of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. This year will be the 7th year that WHS students will participate in the head-shaving money raiser.
Colin DeFelice, an 18-year-old WHS senior, has been involved with the effort since he was a freshman. “All the seniors that year were really good at getting a lot of kids involved. I signed up, raised money and shaved my head. It was great–there are many kids in town who have pediatric cancer and so it hit home.”
In particular, one friendship with a Wilton child who has battled cancer resonated strongly for Colin. “I intern at Wilton Children’s Theater and Ryan Tucker was there. He’s the nicest kid. He would come in after getting chemo and he’d be exhausted. It’s hard not to feel for him, and know that there are kids like him everywhere. For me that’s what pushed me to do St. Baldrick’s.”
To do something concrete is important to Colin, who talks about the Foundation with a wisdom beyond his 18 years.
“St. Baldrick’s is the best in terms of allocating money to research facilities that are actually getting results and looking for tangible cures, not things that are out of reach. In 2014 they raised $39 million. It’s a very easy way to get behind,” he says.
The other thing that Colin finds so appealing about participating in the event is that it’s both a great way to raise awareness and get other people to take part–but it’s also a very symbolic way to show support for kids facing a cancer battle.
“For a lot of guys, our hair isn’t long enough to donate but I’m paraphrasing Ryan Tucker–he said it’s nice to see that he’s not alone. It’s nice to see other kids who have shaved their heads and are willing to stand behind me and stand with me through this,” Colin says. “I can’t speak for every pediatric cancer patient, but that probably means a lot more than telling them we’re raising money. To know there are people willing to help in any way possible, that means a lot.”
For this year’s event, Wilton 5th grader Anna Getner, who is currently a fierce cancer warrior fighting leukemia, will be coming and speaking, to tell the volunteers what her fight has been like and what it means to see those who have gathered to help.
“I think it’s important, so the kids who volunteer can see what they’re standing behind instead of just an [intangible] idea,” Colin says.
History of the Wilton Event
Locally, the head-shaving fundraising effort started in 2005 when WHS lacrosse coach John Wiseman (WHS ’86) took part in a fundraiser with Team Brent, in honor of 2-year-old Brent McCreesh, the son of John’s co-worker Mike McCreesh. Brent was battling Stage 4 Neuroblastoma. In the ten years since then, Mike and his wife Dana have worked tirelessly on behalf of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation with Team Brent and its hundreds of members who shave their heads annually, raising more than $6 million for childhood cancer research. They have done it so that other children have the chance to survive and thrive and be as lucky as Brent, who today is a happy, healthy teenager who loves chess, tennis, soccer and skiing.
In 2006, a WHS student named Reed Dempsey (WHS ’09) first shaved his head alongside his lacrosse coach. In 2007, Reed and Wiseman joined forces to found “Brent’s Warriors” as a Wilton-based subset of Team Brent. In 2009 they established their own event at Wilton High School. Brent’s Warriors started as a group of WHS athletes but has expanded to include hundreds of WHS students and even some staff members who together have raised more than $200,000. It’s now shepherded by WHS guidance counselor Daniel Pompa.
Reed still shaves his head every year; after graduating from Wilton, he started a team at Bucknell in honor of Brent and then kept up the tradition, shaving in Washington, DC and London.
How to Support the 2015 St. Baldrick’s Volunteers
Even if you don’t know a participating WHS St. Baldrick volunteer who’s shaving it all off on Tuesday, you can still donate to support the group’s efforts. Visit the St. Baldrick WHS team page online and pledge a donation there, or come to the event and the group will gladly accept and cash or check contribution then. The group is hoping to beat last year’s tally of a little over $23,000.
Colin says there are some adults participating this year as well, including Pompa, the WHS basketball coach Brandon Tegano, WHS registrar Sandi Lund, as WHS students and some students from surrounding towns whose schools don’t host a St. Baldrick’s event. The shaving starts at 7 p.m. and spectators are welcome to come and cheer on the participants.
The event has grown from the first year when just a handful of kids took part and only one barber was needed, to now having more than 60 people participate, requiring at least six barbers to donate their services wielding the clippers.