Basalt High School students, faculty use their heads to honor cancer fighter
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To make a contribution to Basalt Bold & Bald, go to https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/13584/2019.
(Editor’s note: Anna Cunningham, a junior at Basalt High School who was honored Wednesday at the Basalt Bold & Bald event, passed away on Thursday.)
Talk about using their heads for a good cause.
Scores of Basalt High School students and faculty as well as friends from the community rallied Wednesday at a head-shaving event to raise money for cancer research in honor of Anna Cunningham. Anna is a junior who has been fighting cancer for three years and inspiring others through her grace and bravery under trying circumstances.
The 70-plus “shavees” were a diverse group — male and female, a 5-year-old preschooler and an elderly gentleman, students and teachers, faculty members and Basalt police officers, Anglos and Latinos.
They lined up 10 at a time on the stage in the high school commons room and got haircuts from professionals who volunteered their time. Most of the shavees received a buzz cut. A few women and girls opted to get several inches of hair cut off and donated for wigs for females battling cancer.
Even before all donations were tallied, the effort — called Basalt Bold & Bald — raised in excess of $72,000 for cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which targets childhood cancers. The fundraising effort will continue through the school year with a goal of raising more than $100,000.
The initial goal was $10,000. Reaching that mark allows Basalt Bold & Bald to designate the funds specifically for research into Ewing sarcoma, the type of cancer Anna is fighting.
At center stage for the first round of shaving was Red Cunningham, Anna’s father. His son, Cooper, took the initial passes at Red’s long locks with an electric razor.
Red said after leaving the stage that the event means so much to his family.
“It’s been amazing being in a community where people are so generous,” he said. “The number of people who have participated and helped out is truly staggering.”
Anna wasn’t able to attend but at one point the action was live streamed for her — complete with hundreds of cheering high schoolers watching the hair cutting from the seats and while standing on the edge of the packed room. Numerous parents and other community members attended, as well.
“She loves the support but doesn’t like the attention,” Red said. “She doesn’t like being the center of attention for being sick.”
The Basalt Town Council read a proclamation at their Tuesday meeting recognizing Anna as an outstanding community member. Wednesday was designated as Anna Cunningham Day.
Red Cunningham expressed particular appreciation for the high school girls who volunteered to get their head shaved for the fundraiser.
“There are some girls with beautiful locks of hair getting their heads shaved,” he said. “To be a bald girl in high school — I can tell ya because I have a girl who had it — can be a challenge. It’s pretty brave to step in front as a volunteer.”
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One such volunteer was Paola Martinez, a junior classmate of Anna’s. Her dark hair fell well below her shoulders when she arrived at school Wednesday. By 10 a.m. it was close-cropped. Paola said her parents were skeptical of the buzz but she wanted to show her support for Anna as well as a cousin of hers who also is battling cancer and went through chemotherapy.
She said she admired how Anna stayed positive even after she was diagnosed with cancer.
“She was just a ray of sunshine,” Paola said.
As for the haircut, she liked the result.
“It looks good,” she said. “I like it.”
Enough male students, teachers and administrators got their shaved heads to make them a sizable club at the school. Bear Matthews, a senior, said he was away the week the event was organized, but science teacher Brent Hayes informed him he would be among the shavees. It was an easy choice for Bear once he learned about the cause.
“I was all-in from day one because anything that goes on at this high school we do as a family,” he said. “It’s really a community event and we support each other.”
The unified effort was on display at the beginning of the event when Basalt High School Principal Peter Mueller talked about the significance of the gathering and Anna’s bravery while dealing with the disease. The money raised by Basalt Bold & Bald might aid research that spares other kids from childhood cancer, he said.
Mueller then led a chant where he yelled out “We are” and the students responded “Longhorns” for the school mascot. That was followed by Mueller yelling “We are” and the students replying “One.”