At 7 p.m. tonight, the Romeo (Mich.) High School football team will trot on to the field clad in the most emasculating jerseys possible. Wearing all pink, the Bulldogs will face winless Sterling Heights, keen on another conference win. Yet the final score is hardly the main thing on the minds of Romeo's players today, as the pink jerseys make clear.
Instead, the school's players are focused on empathizing with cancer victims, the focal point of the program's second annual WatchDog Game, which raises funds for Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Last year Bulldogs players and fans raised more than $65,000, with their counterparts from Fraser pushing the total money raised above $90,000. For a town of less than 4,000 citizens, that's a pretty sizable contribution.
Raising money for charity is only part of the goal for Romeo head football coach Jason Couch, who also serves as the co-coordinator of the event.
"This is our second year of the WatchDog Game," Couch said in a telephone interview. "We had been a part of the Susan G. Komen 3-day walk for a few years and were interested in getting more involved. We've just been so happy that it has gotten the support that it really deserves.
"Most importantly, I think it helps put everything in perspective, and reminds our players that some things are a lot more important than football."
Romeo's players bond with cancer victims before the game, raising a minimum of $250 each for a special pink jersey emblazoned not with their name, but the name of a cancer survivor they knew personally or was connected to the Romeo community. In the 2009 game, names like "Mom", "Papa Schrimer" and "Grandma B" were as common as traditional surnames like "Glinski" or "McLean".
As soon as the game ends, players present their jerseys to the victims themselves, tying a pink bow on an event more geared towards honoring and helping cancer survivors and victims than getting an on-field result.
Romeo co-coach Curt Rienas told Advice & Source Newspapers that the 2009 game had a profound effect on the program's players.
"We had a player on our team who has fought cancer," Rienas said. "To see that kid come out here and play, he was just bawling his eyes out afterward. Obviously this means a lot to him.
"I hope the biggest thing that comes out of this is in the kids' minds that for the rest of their lives they continue to help some kind of a cause," Rienas added. "I hope they encourage their kids to do the same things. I don't really think they'll really realize what kind of impact this game has on them until years down the road."
Rienas added that he was proud of how his and Fraser's players, coaches and communities came together to make this successful event happen.
"I think this says a lot for not only our community, but for Fraser also," Rienas said. "There are so many hidden things behind it that shows there are a lot of good things going on out there. This is only one of a handful of things we've asked our guys to do and we don't have to bribe them or anything. They just show up and do it. It says a lot about the people who live in this community."
Now the Romeo community is ready to kick off their second WatchDog game tonight, and there's hope that the team can surpass the fundraising marks they set a year ago. If you'd like to contribute to the team's fight, you can click on the link blow to donate.