With heads shaved in unison to show Melissa Holland-Creel their support, members of the Perry Hall Rec football team and coach Bill Hennessy came up with other ways to honor teammate Jordan Holland's aunt's battle with stage II breast cancer.
Considering they are only 8-year-olds, the newly shorn Gators Gold team should be proud of the way they comported themselves before pounding Hereford, 27-0, Sept. 22.
Hennessy and the team presented Holland-Creel, 33, with a special helmet festooned with a pink For the Cure ribbon, a "Faith, Hope, Love" message and players' signatures in a brief, but heartfelt, surprise pre-game ceremony.
Moreover, Hennessy donned a pink shirt and socks for the game and handed out pink rally towels that he dyed the night before in preparation for the event. The Gators' navy-blue uniform pants enhanced pink socks and shoelaces also sported by the players.
As an honorary team captain, Holland-Creel pitched in by winning the pre-game coin flip to help the Gators get off to on the right foot in a game in which her nephew returned an interception for a touchdown.
"I'm a little overwhelmed right now," the Essex resident said after the ceremony. "It was special for them, and it was special for me."
Lynn Holand, 27, Jordan's mom, said that her sister-in-law was still feeling the effects of a chemotherapy treatment less than 48 hours earlier.
"She has good days and bad days," Holand said. "I don't think she's feeling too well today."
Like the team, which raised its record to 3-2 with the victory, Holland-Creel is very competitive.
When it comes to squaring off against the disease, she's all-in.
"She's a fighter," Holland said. "From the get-go, she has said 'Let's do whatever it takes, because I'm going to survive.'"
There will be plenty of more opportunities ahead to show her mettle, with a couple of more rounds of chemo, hormone therapy surgery and, ultimately, radiation on the horizon.
Holland-Creel, the assistant admissions director at FutureCare Homewood, a post-acute care facility in Charles Village, was diagnosed in late July.
The mother of two is no stranger to tumult and tragedy, having lost her husband in a car accident 10 years ago.
Yet, according to Holland, Holland-Creel has "always been one to put everyone before herself. She found the lump herself when she got out of the shower. Then she automatically thought it was a cyst and waited to make an appointment. She is kind hearted, funny, beautiful, carefree, and most importantly, a good mother to her kids. Whenever someone feels down, you can always call Melissa to make you feel better."
Although Hennessy did not know Holland-Creel well, he felt compelled to help.
"Her nephew has been part of my football family for three years, and his parents have become friends," he said. "I was affected because I just recently lost a good friend to cancer as well. I asked my players' parents (Jordan and Lynn Holland) if we could do something special for her. I know we can't help her physically or financially, but we can make her feel good and lift her spirits for a day."
His actions have touched the Hollands to the core.
"Bill was up all night dying 60 pink terry towels, and his daughter also made a banner for the game," Holland said. "For people to do so much for someone they barely know means so much to me. I am amazed that not one single parent was against any of the kids getting their heads shaved. All the boys will be involved and will understand that the word "cancer" can be beaten, and she will prove it. I can't thank Bill enough for putting this all together. There are good people in the world, and he is definitely one of them."