Jaywalking: Panthers back with TDs Against Cancer

Monday, September 25, 2017

You may have thought that Pioneer Valley Regional School’s fourth-quarter touchdown in a 49-6 loss to Ware High School 10 days ago was meaningless.

Sure, when Tristan Dresser punched in the touchdown from 1 yard out, it made very little difference toward the outcome of the game. But don’t call it meaningless. In fact, it could be one of the most meaningful touchdowns the Panthers score all season.

For the second consecutive season, the Pioneer football team is participating in the “Touchdowns Against Cancer” initiative, a national fundraising campaign that was started a year ago by Max Preps and run through Pledge It, a performance-based crowd-funding site. The campaign is partnered with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and all money raised goes directly towards fighting childhood cancer.

Pioneer was the only high school team in Massachusetts to participate in the program last season and is just one of two to participate this fall. Second-year head coach Paul Worth said he found out about the fundraiser while inputting his football roster and statistics on Max Preps, which is a popular site for high school sports.

“When I saw it was St. Jude’s, I said, ‘Wow, that’s one of my favorite charities,’” Worth said. “It was a no-brainer.”

The fundraiser involves players getting people to donate money for each touchdown the team scores in the final three games of September. So every touchdown, no matter when it is scored or how it effects the outcome, is meaningful.

“The thing that we think about in the back of our heads is that every touchdown we get is helping St. Jude’s,” junior running back Wyatt Keith said on Monday, two days after he rushed for a pair of touchdowns in Pioneer’s 15-14 win over McCann Technical High School. “What’s awesome about St. Jude’s is that for parents, if their kid is sick, they don’t have to pay a dime, they can just focus on their kid.”

Pioneer was one of nearly 200 programs nationwide to take part in the campaign in its inaugural season and the Panthers represented the state well. Pioneer raised over $1,000 last year and was named an All-American Team for hitting that goal. The Touchdowns Against Cancer fundraiser raised over $100,000 last season and is back for a second year this fall. Pioneer is once again involved and Keith said he believes more players are getting involved this season. Worth said that the involvement by his team has been inspiring.

“We are always trying to teach kids to do the right thing,” he explained. “It’s the right thing when you are blessed with good health. I’m glad the kids took to it. It’s supposed to be what we are about. Not just winning and losing.”

Pioneer athletic director Gina Johnson said that the involvement was done solely by the team and she was proud to have the trophy that the team received for being All-American’s last year on display outside the main office.

“They put it together and pursued it and continued to do it,” she explained. “It’s not something that the adults pushed. The kids are the ones that said, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ It goes beyond the game of football and speaks really highly about who they are.”

Pioneer has scored three touchdowns in the first two weeks and has one more game to go — Saturday at 1 p.m. against Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Northfield.

Here’s to hoping the team can add a few more touchdowns to the total and help raise a few more dollars.

Got out to the first half of the Greenfield-Turners Falls football game Friday night.

There was one play early in the second quarter that summed things up for me. Greenfield had the ball on offense and the Turners Falls defense stuffed the run on first down to force the Wave into a second-and-11. Greenfield quarterback Owen Phelps threw an incomplete pass on second down, bringing up third-and-11. On third down, Greenfield ran a draw play, handing off to RJ Byrd and the junior back rushed for 15 yards to get the first down. Greenfield wound up scoring a touchdown on the drive to go up 12-0.

I remarked to co-worker Jeff Lajoie at the time that in years past, that sequence of play was exactly what would doom Greenfield, and that this year the tables have turned a bit. The Greenfield defense would play tough for two downs but would then give up a big play on third down. It was no surprise that Greenfield wound up beating Turners for the first time since 2010, only that the score was as close as it was considering the discrepancy in yards.

I owe Joel Farrick an apology.

Last week, I offered a pair of updates on injuries to Franklin County Technical School football players. As if suffering a concussion and rib injury was not bad enough, Farrick also had to deal with me inadvertently referring to him by his brother’s (Justin) name.

Here’s wishing a speedy recovery.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.