The Rietschel family of Fallston has supported the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s head-shaving fundraisers to fight children’s cancer for the past five years. This year, their 5-year-old son, Elliott, stepped up to get his head shaved.
Elliott was one of 60 people who got their heads shaved at the eighth annual fundraiser Saturday at Looney’s Pub in Bel Air. The event, which started in College Park in 2012, has been at Looney’s since 2013.
“I was very proud of him,” Elliott’s father, Matt, said. “He was very excited.”
Similar head-shaving events are held in communities around the country each year as people get their heads, as well as beards or mustaches, shaved in exchange for donations to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. The California-based organization provides funding for childhood cancer research, as well as support for children going through treatment and those who survive cancer, according to the foundation website.
“I think it’s a great event,” Matt Rietschel said of the Bel Air head-shaving. “Anything that anybody can do to help theses kids out is wonderful.”
Organizers of the Bel Air event had raised more than $30,000 before shaving even started Saturday afternoon, and they expect to reach their annual goal of $50,000 through contributions raised by shavees, a raffle, silent auction, 20 percent of Looney’s sales during the nine-hour event and other methods.
“I think our 2019 campaign will hit 50 grand,” lead organizer Dylan Baumgardner said.
This year’s event featured live music from bands Tripwire and 3AM Tokyo for the first time.
Matt Rietschel and his wife, Kelly, said their son wanted to get his head shaved to support his cousin, 14-year-old Adam Sparr of Joppa. The Fallston Middle School eighth grader, who will mark six years of remission from cancer in July, has been a regular participant and honoree at the Bel Air St. Baldrick’s events.
“It’s an amazing cause and it’s near and dear for my heart, for a lot of people that I’ve interacted with as an educator,” said Kelly Rietschel, who spent 20 years as a teacher and administrator in the Baltimore City schools and Harford County Public Schools.
She now works for the Baltimore-based nonprofit Improving Education, and she provided one of her organization’s products, Bedtime in a Box, for the event raffle.
Mike Gore of Abingdon had his head shaved, and he bought raffle tickets, winning at least two prizes Saturday. This year is his second participating with St. Baldrick’s.
Gore, 37, said his maternal grandmother passed away from cancer, as well as relatives on his father’s side.
“I just think giving back is nice to do,” he said.
The Bel Air St. Baldrick’s event was created to honor Andrew “Drew” Eilbacher, a friend of Baumgardner and fellow member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. Eilbacher died of complications from a brain tumor in July of 2011 at age 23, according to his obituary.
The Saturday event at Looney’s was held in honor of Eilbacher, Adam Sparr and several children who have battled cancer or died from the disease.
Participants can form fundraising teams such as Drew’s Crew — in honor of Eilbacher — and Adam’s Avengers, which is in honor of Sparr.
“I’ve had a lot of people in my life affected [by cancer],” said Drew’s Crew volunteer member Sophia Hays of Forest Hill.
Hays was friends with Eilbacher, and they were in the Bel Air fire company together. She is currently a firefighter and paramedic in Baltimore County, and she was the barber coordinator for Saturday’s head shaving. She has been involved with St. Baldrick’s for 11 years.
“I really support the fact that the money goes to research,” Hays said, standing near a pile of hair on the stage at Looney’s.
She noted the foundation is “very transparent about where your money goes when you donate.”
Todd “Cool Cat” McKinney, another Drew’s Crew member who served as the master of ceremonies, said about $270,000 has been raised over eight years, not including donations for Saturday’s event.
“The community has been very generous,” McKinney said.
Members of Eilbacher’s family, including his parents and extended family members, attended.
“It’s turned into more than we thought it would ever turn into,” said 26-year-old Cody Eilbacher, a cousin of Drew Eilbacher,
Cody Eilbacher, who lives in Centerburg, Ohio, and got his head shaved Saturday, called cancer survivor Adam Sparr “the real hero that we keep rolling for.”
Sparr attended with his family, who were part of the Adam’s Avengers team. His older sister and Adam’s Avengers team captain, Hannah Nelson, received a certificate of appreciation from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for the team’s efforts to raise $27,800 for the foundation.
“It just takes time, asking people, spreading the word through Facebook,” Nelson, 22, said.
Adam Sparr earned his black belt in Tae Kwon Do Saturday, and he got his head shaved and dedicated his martial arts trophy to other children who were honored at Looney’s.
His sister, Kaitlyn Sparks, joked that “he kicked cancer’s butt, and he’ll kick yours.”
“I think it’s pretty cool that they’re a nonprofit organization, and they’re trying to help out to find a cure for cancer,” Sparr said of St. Baldrick’s.
The next St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event in Harford County will be March 30 from noon to 6 p.m. at Bill Bateman’s Bistro in Havre de Grace.