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’Ponax Panthers take pink swipe at cancer

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Massaponax High School freshman Riley Saunders adds his handprint to a mural while Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) members Greer Kane (center) and Kelly McNult watch at the school on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. The mural is part of a breast cancer awareness campaign students have been working on for a month. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

Riley Saunders, a freshman at Massaponax High School, contributed the 61st hand print to the school’s breast cancer awareness mural earlier this week.

He missed some of his Spanish class to be part of the school’s project, which lasts until Oct. 30.

Riley’s print was incorporated in the mural, a tree with pink hand prints serving as leaves, because he purchased one of 565 T–shirts sporting the logo “Paint Ponax Pink,” sold to support the local Susan G. Komen Foundation.

He said he doesn’t know anyone with the disease, but wants to support his classmates and help people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Eventually, the one tree in the Massaponax stairwell mural will spawn a forest as all 565 hand prints are included. Currently, the mural sports about 80 hand prints.

The school’s DECA chapter, which sponsored the fundraiser, has raised over $3,000 for breast cancer research.

Greer Kane and Kelly McNult, both seniors and DECA members, helped launch the fundraiser.

“We had heard of doing pink games where the players wear pink items, but we had never heard of a school-wide pink out,” Greer said.

Kelly said after they introduced the idea to the school and began selling T–shirts, the event took on a life of its own.

The athletic director painted a pink breast cancer ribbon on the field without being asked, and organizations began donating money and support.

Kelly said she thinks the school was so involved in the fundraiser because so many people are personally affected by the disease.

She said she hopes other DECA students will take over the fundraiser next year.

Massaponax is the only Spotsylvania high school to hold a large fundraiser early this academic year, said spokeswoman René Daniels.

Other schools will hold smaller-scale fundraisers next semester, including Courtland High School, which will raise money to support Hope House, which shelters homeless mothers and children.

Ellen Saunders, a marketing teacher and DECA sponsor at Massaponax, said the scale of the event surprised her.

At first, she ordered 240 T–shirts, but as demand increased, she continued to order more.

“This is the first time we’ve done this,” she said. “And other schools supported us, too. The soccer coach at Thornburg Middle purchased them as warm-up shirts for the team.”

She said that social networking, especially Instagram, spread word about the event.

“People started noticing,” she said. “And everyone had a story with breast cancer.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976