ZEPHYR — A few Zephyr Bulldogs got a proper sendoff, and haircut, before Friday’s 81-70 victory over Gorman during their pregame pep rally.

Although schools use pep rallies to cheer on their teams before a big game, Zephyr used its pep rally to cheer on students with a different fight as school officials, coaches and athletes recognized past and present students and their battle with childhood cancer.

“This is the third year in a row we were lucky enough to have a childhood cancer pep rally,” said DeAnn Perkins, Zephyr ISD teacher, coach and pep rally organizer. “I’m lucky to work at a small school with an administration that supports this.”

Throughout the rally, organizers recognized those with past and ongoing battles with childhood cancer and many of the football players participating had their heads shaved, in some instances by cancer survivors, as a show of solidarity. While sports teams across the U.S. often sport pink to recognize breast cancer awareness in October, Perkins said getting people to go gold is just as important because it recognizes victims of childhood cancer, which she said seems to go unnoticed even by parents.

“Anyone who has dealt with a cancer diagnosis is forever changed,” Perkins said. “I did not realize kids got cancer. I guess I was blind to all of that. You’re busy living life and all of a sudden your child is diagnosed with cancer and the world stops. You realize how many good people there are in the world that help. Childhood cancer is just an unknown. People just don’t know about it. The whole world goes pink in October for breast cancer and I think mine and Sandra Richardson’s goal is for everyone to go gold in September.”

Throughout the crowd of Friday’s pep rally, most of the students, teachers and parents in the audience sported gold or yellow clothing in support of childhood cancer awareness.  When prompted, most of yellow-and-gold clad attendees remained standing when an organizer asked for those who donated to assist Cade Perkins, the son of DeAnn Perkins who fought his own battle with leukemia. Perkins said Zephyr is a small, close-knit community with residents who become closer in times of strife and battling cancer is no different.

“It takes everybody. We were busy with Cade with treatments and driving and trying to do this logistics of just getting him where he needed to be to get his treatment,” Perkins said. “We had a village in Brown County with our family and friends surrounding us and taking care of everything else so we could focus all of our attention on Cade. I love to see [students] step up and be a part of something bigger than themselves. That is one of the things we hope they learn at Zephyr — to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s amazing to see. We only had five kids looking to get their heads shaved, then all of those other one just jumped in.”

For Brandy Byars Bishop, returning to Zephyr High School for the pep rally was an emotional experience. During her senior year, while playing basketball under Perkins, Bishop began to experience signs on Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that followed her when she started her college athletic career at Howard Payne University.

“We grew up together. This was the only school I went to,” Bishop said. “… I’m a beautician and I would not miss it. It’s my hometown, my roots. In Brown County, whether it’s cancer, a death or a car wreck, the whole community becomes involved. I grew up here and since 1986, when I started kindergarten to when I graduated, everybody has such a big heart.”