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East Hillsborough teams are ready for Relay for Life

The back of a Relay for Life T-shirt captures the emotion of cancer patients and the family members and friends who support them. It reads: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about dancing in the rain.
Published Mar. 27, 2014

Some come for the games, some for the food and some to see men dress like women.

But they all come to support a good cause.

Each spring, East Hillsborough residents commit to spend an entire night, usually around a high school track, for at least one Relay for Life event to benefit the American Cancer Society.

At the Relay for Life community fundraising walks, members of teams take turns walking around the track and participate in fun, and at times emotional, activities.

"Each event reflects the community taking part," said Relay for Life specialist Allison Martinez. "We have teams from elementary schools to high school, as well as community businesses and family teams. They have become a tradition that people look forward to every year."

Most events are held at high school campuses because of the track and because of the tremendous support of high school students and faculty members.

High school clubs and sports teams make up most of the relay teams, although teenagers have to work a little harder to earn the right to spend the entire night at the event.

"We have a stipulation that for a teenager to spend the night they have to raise $100 to keep them in the gate," Martinez said. "No one wants to leave at 11 when the curfew is 11.

"It also makes them want to understand where that money is going."

Throughout each event, participating teams conduct on-site fundraisers and go head to head against other teams in a little friendly competition. Activities are targeted to age groups so there is a little something for everyone, Martinez said.

"People love the lip synch competition — it gets pretty competitive. And people really have fun during Miss Relay, when the men dress up as women and collect donations around the track. The outfits get really crazy."

Before the event, teams raise 50 to 70 percent of their total contributions for the American Cancer Society through a variety of endeavors, from car washes and spirit nights to talent shows and Drag Queen Bingo. Teams vie to bring in the most donations not only against one another but from event to event.

"We see a lot of friendly competition between relays," Martinez said. "FishHawk is always wanting to know what Plant City is doing."

In part, that rivalry pits one of the youngest relay events against one of the longest running. Here's a list of upcoming Relay for Life events.

Relay for Life of Riverview, Riverview High, Saturday

Relay for Life of Riverview is a team that is in and out of the top 25 events in the state, but that consistently sees heavy support by the community. The Riverview Chamber of Commerce forms a team, and so do sheriff's deputies and many Riverview companies, but one team always makes sure to stand out.

"The Showmen's Club" of carnival workers "has participated three years in a row and have raised nearly $100,000 alone," Martinez said. "They fundraise like crazy for the entire year. They're already up to $25,000 to $30,000 for this year."

The Showmen's Club found its fundraising niche in Drag Queen Bingo, an activity held several times a year, Martinez said. The club also reserves five to 10 campsites, which are elaborately decorated, and offers carnival food for sale during the relay.

RELAY FOR LIFE of VALRICO, Bloomingdale High, Saturday

The Bloomingdale Relay features a majority of student teams.

Relay for Life of FishHawk, Newsome High, April 5

The FishHawk Relay has doubled its fundraising in eight short years of participation. In 2006, Relay for Life of FishHawk brought in about $70,000. In 2013, the event raised $148,000.

"FishHawk has taken off like crazy. They just have an incredible amount of student support," Martinez said.

Of all the six area events, FishHawk's boasts the greatest number of student teams at 44, including the FishHawk Fossil Club, National Honor Society teams for each grade, and an AVID team.

Relay for Life of Plant City, Plant City High, April 11

Relay for Life of Plant City, now in its 16th year, is the longest-running event, and consistently in the top three event in the state (raising $242,000 in 2013). Therefore, it has many of its own traditions. Rather than have multiple teams for the high school, the school's clubs and organizations pool all their money raised.

In addition, the Cancer Survivors Dinner was held the evening of March 24 at First Baptist of Plant City instead of during the relay event because of the large number of participants.

"At this year's dinner, I wanted to make sure people knew that good things can come out of bad situations," said speaker Joy Neely, the 2014 honorary survivor, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just over a year ago.

"The bottom line is, it really doesn't matter how many years you have left here but how much life you put in those years. This event is a lesson about that for us."

Relay for Life of SouthShore, Lennard High, April 12

The SouthShore event alternates between Lennard and East Bay high schools, which creates a competition between the schools for who can hold a better event than the year before and who can raise more money. Both schools have strong student and faculty participation.

Relay for Life of Seffner, Armwood High, May 2

This event spun off the Brandon and Plant City events several years ago. Teams will include those made up by students, faculty, community businesses and the Seffner Chamber of Commerce.


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