The New England Patriots kick off their home opener against the Jets Thursday night at Gillette Stadium and, as is the nature of football, one team will walk away disappointed.
Not a single frown was spotted on the field on Thursday afternoon, however, as Gillette Stadium played host to a different kind of home opener: the "Cheer for Dana-Farber" Kickoff.
Spearheaded by local cheerleading coaches Tamara Hayes of Westford Academy and Maureen Sullivan of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, "Cheer for Dana-Farber" is a new fundraising program that will help raise money to support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber.
"'Cheer for Dana-Farber' is a new fundraiser that encourages a new generation to support adult and pediatric cancers at Dana-Farber Institute," said Dana-Farber's Assistant Vice President for Development Suzanne Fountain.
The new fundraising program kicked off in style, as cheerleaders from local New England high schools got the opportunity of a lifetime: to meet the New England Patriots Cheerleaders and perform a special routine on the Patriots' home field.
"It was like nothing I've ever done before," said Baylee Sacco, a member of the cheerleading team at Westford Academy. "Our football facilities are so much smaller compared to this, I can't even imagine… It was so much fun!"
Sacco's Westford Academy squad was one of five high schools represented at the event. Also present were cheerleaders from Concord-Carlisle, Acton-Boxborough, Waltham, and Wayland.
"I'm very proud of the girls," said Hayes, who led her Westford Academy girls and other four high schools in a rousing cheer routine at midfield following some opening remarks from Fountain. "We only had a quick practice on Monday, so we kind of threw it all together and they really worked hard as a group to be able to be here and perform."
The girls will also be working hard off the field, as they are set to begin a three-month-long fundraising program to raise money for cancer research and care at Dana-Farber. The event kicks off this week and runs through Nov. 28, when the squads who raised the most money will receive prizes donated by the Kraft family and New England Patriots Cheerleaders. Topping the list of awards is the Grand Prize: a chance to perform a pre-game cheerleading routine at Gillette Stadium on December 29 when the Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills.
The girls at Westford Academy will be well on their way to their goal this weekend, as they plan to host a Dual-County League cheerleading competition with all proceeds being donated to the Dana-Farber Institute.
"It's just been really great, knowing how terrific of a cause this is and how much fun we're having doing something we love for something so great," added Sacco.
For Suzanne Fountain and Dana-Farber, "Cheer for Dana-Farber" is a win-win in that it allows local cheerleaders to do something they love while also supporting a great cause. In fact, Fountain sees a parallel in the teamwork exemplified by cheerleading teams like Sacco's and the football team that occupies the Gillette Stadium turf on Sundays.
"[Patriots owner] Robert Kraft's emphasis on the importance of collaborative team efforts resonates not only on the football field, but also in cancer research and care," said Fountain. "We know that it will require a collaborative effort to win the Super Bowl for cancer patients."