What do four Pine View Middle School girls, a boys baseball team and professional athletes have in common?
Prior to October, I might have said, well, nothing. But in recent weeks, as coordinator of Hometown Pasco news, I have received some inspiring reader submissions about young people in Pasco County taking up the cause of breast cancer awareness.
It's an outstanding act of courage and participation. Young people, with the guidance of parents, coaches and teachers, are growing up with an awareness that was missing a few decades ago.
Having spent more than 30 years as a Pasco teacher, I recall days in the early '90s in a fifth-grade class when an eruption of embarrassed silliness came at the utterance of "underwear." I can't imagine the uproar the word "breast" would've caused. Kids then lacked in exposure to many things, both good and bad, that kids today see regularly.
As TV shows have progressed, sexual references are present at all hours. A colleague with young children recently remarked if the TV was on in his home, he worried about stepping out of the room for even a few minutes, because something could happen on a show or commercial that would raise all kinds of questions in little minds.
But the media — particularly through professional sports — has also brought us images of men at various sporting events, clad in pink attire in support of breast cancer awareness. That has opened doors for young athletes like the West Florida Elite 13U Travel baseball team to wear pink uniforms for their games in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. To my thinking, that makes these pink jersey-wearing preteens winners both on and off the field.
"I think it's important that kids my age understand and know how to react when we hear people talking about breast cancer," says Trevor Foggia, 13, who plays on the West Florida Elite team.
Trevor says he will continue supporting breast cancer awareness in high school because it's a worthwhile cause and he sees kids his age having a good understanding of the serious side of the disease.
"Players from others teams actually came and told us how cool it was for us to wear pink," said Trevor, whose grandmother, Deanna Teddy of Holiday, is a breast cancer survivor.
Many young people like Trevor are thrust into knowing about breast cancer when they'd rather not have to face it. When moms or grandmas are diagnosed and undergo surgeries and treatments, there is no denial of the seriousness of the disease or the need for research that will hopefully find a cure.
Grace Hrenko, 12, is watching her grandmother, Suzanne Lowe, go through breast cancer treatments. She holds firm to the thought her grandma is strong and things will be okay. In the meantime, she has the support of three good friends at Pine View Middle School: Tristan Wiles, Reney Santos and Peyton McElaney, who felt the most important thing they could do is let Grace know they were close for support. The four girls went further, forming a group they called Pink Avengers. They made pink bead bracelets and sold them to friends and neighbors: $6 for one, $10 for two. They created websites for donations and raked in about $2,500. They participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk and urged classmates to join them.
"Many students have not experienced it personally, but they wear pink in support even when they are not totally aware," Tristan said.
Tristan's mom, Stacy Wiles, was online director for Making Strides for three years. She said the Internet has opened doors for the young generation, especially with fundraising. She has also seen major changes in the attitudes with events like "Put on Your Pink Bra."
The girls eagerly tell of how their classmates — including some young fellows — donned pink bras, on top of their shirts, for the walk.
"Breast cancer's not something kids want to talk about," said Grace. "But we all know how serious it is and we know we can help."