Video: Touchdowns Against Cancer 2017
Football teams throughout the country take on the fight against pediatric cancer.
When the high school football seasons settles to a halt this week with state championships in Texas, MaxPreps will officially crown its 2017 national champion.
But earlier this season another national champ was already recognized. A champion of the heart. A champion of brotherhood — and sisterhood. A champion of togetherness and giving. Chopticon (Morganza, Md.)
raised $12,573 to top more than 440 other schools that participated in the second annual Touchdowns Against Cancer
campaign to fight pediatric cancer.
The drive, in association with Pledge It and MaxPreps, raised $105,117 to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
During September — Pediatric Cancer Awareness month — teams accepted the challenge to pledge money for every touchdown it scored during a three-week span.
Chopticon scored 14 touchdowns during that stretch — two wins and one loss — but assistant coach Mike Gallo said reaching the end zone and scoring more points than the opposition were byproducts to bigger lessons.
"We preach to our players all the time to be pillars of your community," Gallo said. "Our motto is brotherhood and take care of others. There's much more to the game than playing football. We want our guys to feel something special; To be part of something bigger and be leaders."
Don't get Gallo wrong.
The Braves, their coaches, players and community are competitive and love to win.
Under head coach Anthony Lisanti, Chopticon just finished off its fourth straight winning season with an 8-3 campaign, the Braves' second straight eight-win season. Over four seasons, they are 29-13.
"Anytime there is a competition, our school and community eats it up," Gallo said. "Once we jumped on board in this campaign, everyone got involved."
The football team wasn't the only national TAC champion from Chopticon. The cheerleading team, led by coach Jennifer Grimm, also raised more money than any spirit squad in the country.
The funds they raised in the final weeks — $658 — helped put the Chopticon squad over the top.
"They really stepped up," Gallo said of the cheerleading squad. "We like to tie everything and every one into one unit. It's a very spirited and supportive community."
An unincorporated region of St. Mary's County, Morganza is a tightly-knit community. Its located on the St. Mary's Peninsula and only the Potomac River separates it from Virginia.
Little divides the Chopticon community, Gallo said. During hardship, it truly rallies together.
Last spring when a young boy in the community succumbed to cancer. "It was heartbreaking. The whole community felt it," Gallo said. "Listen, everyone's family is affected by cancer. We had been a part of the TAC program the previous year. We just felt it was a real good way to rally around this tragedy and show our support to the family who lost a son."
Smith and the Braves hit the pavement and social media platforms hard right away last spring to drum up pledges and awareness. Local media and businesses hopped right on board. The local Optimist Club and Moose Lodge jumped aboard.
There were feeds and shirt sales and friendly wagers. Coaches shaved their heads.
Co-captain Jeremy Ucekay raised $815. Teammates Tyson Gregory and Cameron Rudolph contributed $893 and $850, respectively. Austin Gregory raised $518 more.
Lisanti kept his agreement to shave his head if the school raised at least $10,000.
"We have some great kids and they really embraced their roles as fundraisers," Lisanti told
. "The whole Chopticon community really supported them. What a cause. You couldn't find a better one. We're just happy we had a chance to assist in that."
Two weeks after the three-game touchdown drive was complete, at a Chopticon home football win Leonardtown, officials from Pledge It, MaxPreps and St. Jude's joined forces. At halftime, a check of $105,117 was presented to St. Jude's representative Suzy Mahjoub and the Braves were crowned national champions for their hearty and monumental efforts.
"From the beginning the Chopticon community has supported this campaign and it's been truly unbelievable to see a community rally together to support a cause that affects all of us," Pledge It Vice President of Marketing Dave Costlow said. "To see the overwhelming support tonight is really the kind of embodiment that Touchdowns Against Cancer is all about."
Said Mahjoub: "We're very proud of Chopticon for what they've achieved."
At the game, coaches, administrators, cheerleaders and fans donned yellow shirts with the words "We Earned It."
Did they ever.