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Harborfields homecoming game pauses to honor cancer fight

Members of Harborfields High School's varsity football team

Harborfields High School's homecoming on Saturday benefited several cancer-related initiatives, including Stand Up 2 Cancer, Greenlawn Goes Gold and Maggie's Mission. Maggie's Mission is named after a Harborfields student who died in 2017 at the age of 17 from a rare form of cancer.  Credit: Jennifer A. Uihlein

At the end of the first quarter of Harborfields High School’s homecoming football game versus Eastport-South Manor on Saturday, everything stopped.

The players and cheerleaders turned around to face the stands and joined spectators holding up cards with names on them like “Morgan,” “Jody Johnson,” “Tommy Mazur,” “Despina.” Every name was a person who had been impacted by cancer.  

This was just one display of support by the Harborfields community for cancer awareness during its homecoming weekend, as Stand Up 2 Cancer, Greenlawn Goes Gold and Maggie’s Mission all united.

Maggie Schmidt, a former Harborfields student, died in June 2017 from malignant rhabdoid tumor, a rare and aggressive form of cancer

Her parents, Steven Schmidt and Donna DeSousa-Schmidt were on-hand representing the nonprofit they organized to raise money to find cures for rare pediatric cancers, while also helping families affected by the disease. The parents' mission was inspired by Maggie.

“When Maggie knew she was dying, we asked her how we could help, and she wanted us to help other children so that they wouldn’t suffer as she did,” DeSousa-Schmidt explained.

“I try and imagine what Maggie would want us to do,” added Schmidt. “I think that we honor her by helping other families dealing with childhood cancer.”

Maggie’s mom and dad sold T-shirts, hats and other items in the name of Maggie’s Mission. 

 Sophomore Natalie Pedrazzi, 15, had a gold ribbon attached to her cheerleader jersey, in connection to a childhood cancer awareness campaign, “Greenlawn Goes Gold.” Pedrazzi came up with the idea as part of her work to earn a Girl Scout Gold Award.

Noting that September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, she added that “cancer has greatly affected many people in our school district.” She was referring to Maggie as well as two current Harborfields students battling leukemia and colon cancer.  

In addition to Maggie’s Mission and Greenlawn Goes Gold, Harborfields seniors Brooke Semmelmeier, 17, and Catherine Capodanno, 16, started the “Stand Up 2 Cancer” club at Harborfields.  While acknowledging the inspiration of Maggie and the desire to be there for the current students dealing with cancer, their efforts are also personally driven.

“My grandmother had breast cancer, and was able to beat it, but my grandfather had pancreatic cancer and unfortunately succumbed,” Semmelmeier said explaining why she’s working with Capodanno on the club.  She addedi that her cousin was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. “I want to live in a world where the ‘c-word’ doesn’t exist.”

“My mom was diagnosed and fought through breast cancer in 2017,” said Capodanno of her mother, Karen Capodanno, who has since been declared cancer-free. “Although my mom fought hard, I felt very helpless, as if there was nothing I could do to help…. the club has been an outlet for me to feel like I am making a difference.”

“I’m really lucky to have so many students who are so incredible,” said Harborfields principal Timothy Russo. “The fact that so many students use a celebration like homecoming as a time to unite behind a cause… it just makes the entire school a great place.”

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