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October 18, 2010

A CLUB AGAINST CANCER - Tech baseball coaches and players shave their heads to support childhood cancer research

By: Jimmy Robertson

Heading into fall practice, Tech head baseball coach Pete Hughes and the Hokies are sporting a different look.

At an event held in front of a large crowd at English Field on Sept. 20, Hughes and members of the team shaved their heads, though not for vanity purposes. On the contrary, they decided to go with the shaved look in a show of support for childhood cancer research. As most probably know by now, September served as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The team came to learn of the devastating effects of cancer on children through their association with Levi Mayo, a 10-year-old boy from Craig County, Va. In 2008, Hughes and the Hokies adopted Mayo as a team member. Mayo was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor when he was 4 years old, underwent surgery and nearly died during the treatments. He lost all his daily functions, such as talking, walking and even swallowing.

Though the long-term effects will stay with him forever, Mayo is cancer-free now and has re-learned all those daily functions. He attends the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Roanoke and is doing well academically.

But it’s the Hokies who have learned more.

“I think we all realize how lucky we are,” Hughes said. “We’ve got it good, and our players realize they have it good as Virginia Tech student-athletes. That’s what our players realize when Levi is around. It makes you realize that you shouldn’t take anything for granted.”

Hughes came up with the idea to have his players shave their heads as a way also to help Mayo’s mother, Melina Brown, raise money for cancer research. In early September, Brown traveled to Los Angeles to participate in an event called “46 Mommas Shave For The Brave.” The event was designed to raise money for childhood cancer research and to bring attention to childhood cancer. The significance of the number “46” – every day, 46 parents in the United States are told their child has cancer.

“Melina told me, ‘Why don’t you guys shave your heads with us?’” Hughes said. “I said, ‘We’re in.’ We decided to piggyback off what she was doing and see how much we could raise for as good of a cause as there is.

“Our players were great about this. I told them that they didn’t have to shave their heads – I wasn’t going to make them – and that I was just trying to help Melina. But every single player did it and they all took pride in doing something good. That’s what it’s all about.”

Brown, who is passionate about raising money for cancer research, has raised more than $6,500 toward her goal of $10,000. Following the event at English Field, Hughes presented her with a check in the amount of $500.

The event was also part of Hughes’ “19 Ways” program. He challenged his players to come up with 19 ways to make a difference in the community this year. Hughes wears No. 19 on game days as a way to honor his mother, whose favorite number was 19.

Hughes’ mother and father both passed away from cancer, so the subject hits home for him. He holds a golf tournament each summer near Boston, with all the proceeds going to The Jimmy Fund, an organization in Boston that supports cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

In a fitting tribute, Hughes let Mayo shave his head.

“I had to talk him into it,” Hughes said. “He didn’t want to do it. Then he said he’d do it if I’d have lunch with him at his school. I told him he drove a hard bargain, but I’d do it.

“That’s okay, though. Six years ago, Levi was bald, but not by choice. To have him cut my hair was an honor.”