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High school athletes push breast cancer awareness

The color pink was strewn across everything in October. Countless advertising promotions turn pink for the month. Pink becomes an unusually frequent staple in the wardrobes of both women and men.

Now pink, the color associated with breast cancer awareness campaigns through the disease's official month, has made its way into the athletic arena.

Professional athletes are allowed to wear pink during the month - the only color other than one officially associated with the team's uniform, per league rules. Even referees, perpetually pushed to the background with their black and white 'zebra' uniforms, get to don pink.

Now, high school sports are beginning to follow the path set forth by the professionals. Schools in New Hampshire are finding ways to bring Americas most beloved games in touch with one of the most recognized tribulations in society.

Goffstown High School's volleyball team continued its six-year tradition of participating in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk in Manchester. Head coach Matt Leonard said, between Goffstown's three high school and four middle school teams, the program raised $4,705 this year, putting them over $20,000 through the six years.

'We've gotten bigger and bigger each year,' said Leonard. 'It's pretty impressive. The kids have been great with it.'

The team also held its annual 'Dig Pink Night' during an Oct. 10 match against Londonderry. The players dusted off the pink jerseys, which they wear each year, and raised a few extra dollars. Goffstown players also bake and sell goods at each home game, and have buckets at local stores to contribute to the walk.

Since he was approached by one of his players six years ago who asked to start what has become a tradition, Leonard said he is honored by the effort his teams have put forth to give to a worthy and important cause.

'It's been a great event for us and we're really proud,' he said. 'It's just great to have these young women have this awareness now.'

The Goffstown spirit team also took part by using pink pom-poms, donated by a parent, throughout the month to raise awareness. The players also donated to the breast cancer walk in Manchester.

Fall teams at Salem High School worked with different charities such as Caregivers and the Make a Wish Foundation, but athletes from winter teams like ice hockey and girls basketball typically donate to Coaches vs. Cancer.

The pink invasion was particularly noticeable on the football field. Players from schools like Manchester West, Central and Souhegan replaced the typical white or black sweatbands and athletic tape with vibrant pink.

Ernie Clark, commissioner of the New Hampshire Football Officials Association, said the referees have participated by sporting pink lanyards and whistles. They also hold fundraisers like 50/50 raffles to make a contribution to breast cancer awareness.

'We're just the same as the people in the stands and people everywhere that are afflicted by breast cancer,' Clark said. 'We do it subtly because, believe it or not, we try not to draw attention to ourselves. A big part of it is that we hope people recognize football officials are just regular folks.'

Clark, a 35-year member of the NHFOA, no longer officiates, but as commissioner, he does oversee and attend games throughout the fall football season. Even as a predominantly male organization, Clark and other members of the NHFOA agreed they needed to show support.

'A number of our members have had relatives or friends that have been affected by breast cancer,' said Clark. 'Obviously, we are a male dominated association, but we all have women in our lives that we are quite concerned for, so we decided that this was a good cause.'

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