Children's battles against cancer honored at annual St. Baldrick's fundraiser in Bel Air

Forest Hill boy, 12, who is in his second bout with leukemia, gets to shave a head during Bel Air St. Baldrick

In 2013, then 8-year-old Adam Sparr was honored for his battle against cancer during the inaugural head-shaving fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation at Looney's Pub in Bel Air.

Adam, now 11 and nearly three years in remission from leukemia, participated again in Saturday's fourth annual head-shaving fundraiser, which has become a fixture at Looney's every March as people get their heads shaved to raise money to fund research of childhood cancer.

This year, he and his father, Daniel, got their heads shaved to support St. Baldrick's. Adam held a piece of paper with the words "Cancer sucks" printed on it as he got his head shaved on the Looney's stage.

The Sparr family lives in Joppa, and Adam's mother, Sharry, is a cosmetologist at Shear Perfection in Forest Hill. She, along with fellow cosmetologists and barbers, has volunteered to shave heads for prior St. Baldrick's events, but she was a spectator this year.

"It's very important to give [to St. Baldrick's], because a lot of children get diagnosed every three minutes with cancer," Sharry Sparr said.

Adam was 2-and-a-half years old when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007, and he battled the disease twice over six years. His last chemotherapy treatment was in July of 2013, according to his family.

His mother noted "a couple" of the doctors who treated Adam received grants from St. Baldrick's.

Adam is in the fifth grade at Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston. He is also a member of Boy Scout Troop 777, of Bel Air, and he wore his tan Scout uniform shirt Saturday.

"Every day is a blessing with him," said Daniel Sparr. "As hard as it was to go through this with him, at least we still have him."

Daniel, who works for the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation, convinced a few of his co-workers to get their heads and beards shaved Saturday, too. Adam's sister, 19-year-old Hannah Sparks, coordinates fundraisers to fight children's cancer, and she is captain of the Adam's Avengers fundraising team.

"She's going to give back the way we've been given to when Adam was so sick," Sharry Sparr said.

Craig Raborg, of Abingdon, got his head shaved in honor of Adam, as well as all other children fighting cancer. His wife of 20 years has been friends with Adam's aunt since the two women were children.

Raborg has gotten his head shaved each year at the Looney's fundraiser, starting when Adam was wrapping up his treatments.

"It's painful to see anybody with cancer, but it's really sad when you see kids with cancer, so we do what we can to support [them]," he said.

Record-setting participation

About 50 "shavees" have participated each year, but organizers set a record this year with 67 shavees, according to Dylan Baumgardner, the volunteer lead organizer of the Bel Air St. Baldrick's fundraisers.

Annual fundraisers are also held at Bill Bateman's Bistro in Havre de Grace, and the 2016 head-shaving event will be April 2.

"The turnout looks good," Baumgardner said early in the Bel Air event, which lasted from 1 to 5 p.m. "We just aim to pack the place each year."

Participants raised $40,042 through last year's head-shaving event, and the goal for 2016 is $50,000. About $15,000 had been raised in pre-event contributions, and organizers should know the exact total in about two weeks, including money raised during and after the event, according to Baumgardner.

Money was also raised Saturday through raffles, an auction and sales of merchandise, and Looney's will contribute 20 percent of its sales between 1 and 5 p.m.

Jack Meckley, a Harford County Sheriff's Office captain and Bel Air's former interim police chief, was at Looney's Saturday as a volunteer helping to sell T-shirts. He noted people could support St. Baldrick's simply by purchasing a meal at Looney's that afternoon.

"All you have to do is come out and eat some food and have a couple drinks," he said. "You might as well eat to support a good cause."

The five-member Team Soul was among the 67 shavees. The young men, including Alex Terry, 26, of Joppa, Kyle Beck, 24, of Forest Hill, Braden Rothwell, 18, of Forest Hill, Tim Myers, 25, of Abingdon, and Corey Morrison, 25, of Rising Sun, got their heads shaved in honor of Naomi, the daughter of their friend, Duke Clements.

Naomi recently went through surgery for cancer.

"She's a fighter, and she's going to keep fighting," Myers said.

Morrison, who got his head shaved for the second consecutive year, works with the patient transport team at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

"They all want to fight, and they all want to give it the best they can, and no kid should have to go through that," he said of the child cancer patients with whom he interacts.

Terry and Beck are Army veterans who were deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. Terry was a truck driver, mechanic and gunner, and Beck was part of an artillery cannon crew.

"I have a daughter of my own," Beck said. "It's mainly for the kids."

Terry said participating in St. Baldrick's is a way to continue serving the community.

"It's all about selflessness and self-service," he said.

Team Soul raised $1,844, before and during the head-shaving, according to Terry.

Cancer 'sucks'

Mason Howell, 12, of Forest Hill, has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia since the day after Christmas 2015. It is his second round with the disease after being cancer-free for "eight years, two months and 10 days," according to his father, Kurt.

Mason, who turned 12 last Tuesday, had been diagnosed the first time when he was 3 years old, his father said.

"We beat it once, we're going to beat it again," Kurt Howell said.

Mason, who was honored during Saturday's event, wore a knit cap on his head and a surgical mask on his face, as his immune system has been compromised.

He got to shave the head of the event emcee, Todd McKinney, and later smash a cake in McKinney's face as a joke.

Mason was in the midst of sixth grade at North Harford Middle School when he was diagnosed a second time, and he has had to take time off from school for treatments.

"He's missing school," Kurt Howell said, to which Mason replied, "No, I'm not!"

"You miss your friends, though," his father clarified.

Mason's mother, Tabitha Howell, said Saturday was the family's first time at a St. Baldrick's head-shaving event.

"It's awesome to see how many people have volunteered or raised money," she said.

Despite the "amazing support from the community" her family has received during her son's second bout with cancer, it is still incredibly painful to watch Mason go through treatment again.

"It sucks," she said. "There's no other way to describe it; there is not one good thing about it."

Regardless, "at the other end of the spectrum there's not much you can do about but just try to get through it," Howell said.

Child contributor

Nathan Lankford, 11, of Hanover, Pa., visited Looney's Saturday with his father, Jimmy. Jimmy Lankford serves in the Baltimore City Fire Department with Baumgardner, who is also a member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.

"I know [Baumgardner] puts a lot of time and effort in, does a really good job, so we made the trip over here to support him," Jimmy Lankford said.

The elder Lankford got his head shaved, and his son was inspired to do the same after seeing Mason Howell being honored.

"I felt really bad for the kids with cancer, so I felt like doing it to support the kids," said Nathan, who raised $160 from the crowd for getting his head shaved.

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