“They made us all feel special,” said Amy Padilla, a breast cancer survivor. “It was very emotional … the fact that they recognized the fight we had been through." 

The “they” weren’t doctors, nurses or health care providers. The “they” were the Highland High School Scotts varsity football team.

Scots Coach Mike Gutierrez approached me several years ago with the idea of purchasing specially designed jerseys for his varsity players to wear during a game during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. His coaching staff, their better halves, parents and players held several fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for the specially designed jerseys. They not only raised enough money to purchase their jerseys but also donated $2,000 to the Kern County Cancer Fund.

The Kern County Cancer Fund provides financial support to help fill the gap with medical expenses for Kern County residents affected by cancer. Patients' Kern County residency is a requirement to be considered for financial support.

The Scots' goal was to help raise awareness for what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists as one of the leading causes of death among women. According to the National Cancer Institute, “more than 252,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 40,00 will die of the disease in 2017.”

Raising the money was just the beginning for the Scots' varsity players. A team of local resources assisted with helping Highland locate breast cancer survivors or family members who had lost someone to breast cancer and invite them to the game.

Amy was one of many cancer survivors who were honored at last year’s Breast Cancer Awareness game at Scotland Yard football field. “It was a very emotional experience … a beautiful event. Meeting other breast cancer survivors and sharing our experiences helps and gives us all hope,” said Amy.

I was on the football field last year and remember vividly how the breast cancer survivors were honored before the game. Although VIP seating was arranged near the end zone, none of the survivors could sit down. There was a definite excitement and welcoming spirit of joy and commonality amongst these brave women, many who had never met before.

Highland’s varsity team greeted the women and announced, “We appreciate you being here today. We dedicate this game to you and your families.” Each team member took turns giving each breast cancer survivor a hug and then escorted them to the 50 yard line. The breast cancer survivors were introduced to the crowd as honorary captains and received a standing ovation from both sides of the field.

The undefeated Highland football team wore their Breast Cancer Awareness jerseys at last Friday night’s game against Mira Monte High School. Survivors and families wanting to honor those who lost their battle to breast cancer attneded the opening ceremony.

Amy adds, “No words can explain the experience. These young men were clapping for us and lifting our spirits.”

Led by a remarkable, talented and inspirational coach and his exceptional staff, these outstanding young men recognize and put into action a significant awareness project for those who lives have been affected by cancer.

As Gutierrez explained, “Football is not just about winning games. It’s about community involvement and helping where we can and when needed.”

Congratulations to Coach Mike, your staff and your team. You are indeed helping where you can and when needed. Just ask Amy. "You are helping to spread hope and faith," she says.

The Scots won the game 50-14 but by that time they had already won the heart of this old man. I am sure they won the hearts of the many breast cancer survivors, too, like Amy.

Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at floressteve32@yahoo.com. His work normally appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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