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Pink-clad youth football teams ‘get it’ when it comes to breast cancer awareness

Members Oak Lawn Outlaws Super Pee Wee football team show their support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. | Supplied photo

Members of the Oak Lawn Outlaws Super Pee Wee football team show their support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. | Supplied photo

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Updated: November 23, 2012 6:05AM



Whenever the Oak Lawn Outlaws take the field for their October home games, they create a sea of pink.

“We’re pink everything,” said Brian Hanik, president and head coach of the youth football league.

Pink jerseys, mouthpieces, socks, ribbons and bracelets are everywhere.

Forget about the traditional autumn hues of red and gold. Pink is the hot color for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Even the National Football League has proven that real football players wear pink. But it is far more than a fashion statement that has trickled down to college, high school and youth athletics.

In a movement that has gained popularity in recent years, teams of all ages have embraced not only the color but the cause as they don pink gloves, cleats, shirts and bows and raise funds for families and foundations.

This year, the Outlaws ordered jerseys for all players and cheerleaders, an effort that started a year ago, with fundraisers to cover the cost. The jerseys were not only emblazoned with their numbers, but messages of hope, such as “Stay Strong” where players’ names normally would appear.

On the sideline, they sold pink mouthpieces, ribbons and bracelets.

“It was a lot of extra work, but that doesn’t matter. It is for a good cause,” Hanik said. “We didn’t do this just to mimic the NFL or because it looks cool. We let the kids know why we were doing it.”

There were two keys reasons why. One is 9-year-old cheerleader Sarah, who is battling leukemia and West Nile virus. The other is Lisa Pesek, a breast cancer survivor and mother of a former Outlaw player, Hanik said.

“It’s about togetherness. We’re a family organization. Once an Outlaw, always an Outlaw,” he said.

Together, through sales of pink accessories, the kids raised money for Sarah’s family, and presented them with a check and pink jersey at a recent home game. At their last home game on Oct. 28, they also will make a donation to a breast cancer foundation in Pesek’s name.

Similarly, the Oak Forest Raiders flag football team raised $1,000 this year — and $2,500 over the past three years — for the Cancer Support Centers in Homewood and Mokena.

For the second year, the Orland Knights raffled off an iPod Touch and donated money to the Little Company of Mary Comprehensive Breast Health Center.

“Anything that raises awareness is always a good thing,” said Kathleen Jackson, of the Cancer Support Center. A donation such as the $1,000 from the Raiders “is significant for us,” she said.

The center provides free support services for those fighting cancer and their families — about 1,000 people annually.

With so many wearing pink, “it makes a pretty strong statement,” she said, and maybe it will convince someone to get a breast exam.

Dave Klusacek, president of the Southwest Midget Football League, which oversees many of these teams, said it is not unusual for teams to rally behind a cause.

“Teams can do what they feel is appropriate,” he said. “There are no league rules that say you can’t do it. The high schools and the pros are doing it. When kids see that, they want to do it, too. It gets the kids involved. I see no harm in it.”

“I can’t believe someone would not support breast cancer awareness,” said Cathy Johnson, secretary for the Orland Knights, whose mother-in-law died of breast cancer. “My kids get it.”

Coaches said the majority of the kids on these football and cheer squads “get it.”

Some players wore wristbands in honor of someone, they said.

The Junior Griffins in Mokena support breast cancer awareness as an organization because they know there are kids in their ranks who have been affected by it, Jim Richmond said.

“We don’t require (that they wear pink), but we don’t discourage it,” he said. The team does supply pink duct tape, which players affix to their helmets and pants. Others might add pink socks or gloves.

Each of the Raiders flag football teams sported a different shade of pink socks, and there was not one kid not wearing the color of the day, Tony Wrenn said. During this year’s “pink campaign” — on a very rainy Sunday — they sold pink ribbon suckers and collected donations, which amounted to $1,000, more than they collected in two previous years, he said.

“To raise that kind of money in bad weather — people were totally excited about it,” Wrenn said.

Kids do get excited about the pinkness, but for the most part, it is not a distraction, coaches said.

“In years past, the kids were more worried about how the tape looked,” said Chuck Toland, of the Oak Forest Raiders. “But once they’re in game mode, after the first play, the kids aren’t thinking about it.”

The Raiders don’t require pink, but make it a personal choice, with the majority of them choosing to add some color to their uniform.

“Five years ago, kids wore pink because someone else was wearing it. But now people are more in tune with it. The majority of them do understand what is going on,” Toland said.



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