WESTMONT – A Westmont High School freshman’s battle with cancer recently inspired her fellow students and teachers, sparking a fundraising frenzy that yielded more than $2,200 in donations to the American Cancer Society.
For its fourth annual Coaches Vs. Cancer program – an Interstate 8 Conference-wide fundraiser – the school expanded its efforts as faculty members agreed to shave their heads if the students achieved different financial goals, according to PE teacher and boys varsity basketball coach Craig Etheridge.
The majority of the schools in the Interstate 8 Conference raised between $750 and $1,000, Etheridge said, and in the four prior years, Westmont’s highest total was $1,200.
Westmont staff and students agree that this year’s extra effort came as a result of one student, 15-year-old Emily Wheeler, and her current battle with cancer.
“This year with Emily, it really hit close to home,” English teacher Ron Neurauter said, who vowed to shave his head if students raised $1,000.
At school, Wheeler is an inspiration to many.
“The students have realized that if what she’s going through is being done by thousands of other people that the American Cancer Society cause is worth supporting,” Neurauter said.
During a Feb. 7 assembly, Wheeler helped Busy Bee Barber Shop owner Joseph Etheridge shave the heads of three faculty members and several students.
The 15-year-old said that watching Westmont guidance counselor Lauren O’Connor go bald was an especially touching gesture.
“[Lauren O’Connor] shocked me but it made me feel good that she would do something that major,” Wheeler said.
O’Connor, who vowed to shave her head if the student body raised more than $1,500, said this year’s fundraiser brought the school closer together.
“For such a good cause I felt like it’s only hair,” O’Connor said.
After seeing the students unite in support of Wheeler, O’Connor said she has no regrets and would not think twice if asked to shave her head again.
“We all admire her bravery, strength and commitment to education,” O’Connor said. “To see a young person have that dedication is humbling and very inspiring.”
Wheeler said that seeing everyone participate meant a lot to her.
“It meant a lot and made me feel more supported,” Wheeler said. “I think it can help promote that cancer is a hard thing and hair is only hair.
“It’s so important just getting the word out about cancer,” Wheeler said. “So many people have it going on throughout their lives… you always want to make it a point to help find a way to end cancer.”