|Londonderry High School sophomore Suzy Darcy gasps as her brother, Mike, showed her the long ponytail he’d just snipped from her head during a mass haircutting event held at the high school Friday morning.|
Union Leader Corresponent
LONDONDERRY -- Londonderry High School alumna Angela Fitzgerald had already stood on the gymnasium floor as a student, a donor and a cancer patient. On Friday morning, the 2009 graduate stood among friends on the crowded floor with yet another title: survivor.
Fitzgerald, who attended last year’s ceremony in the midst of her chemotherapy routine, sported thick, dark hair Friday morning, framing her delicate features, making it hard to imagine that she’s a former recipient of two Beautiful Lengths wigs.
Jan. 7 marked a record turnout for the fifth annual Pantene Beautiful Lengths pep rally. This year, a record 204 students and staff members committed to growing their hair, and then have it lopped off in front of the entire school.
Pantene Beautiful lengths is a national campaign that encourages men and women to grow, cut and donate their hair in order to make free wigs for people who have lost their own hair due to cancer treatment.
Since the high school’s program began, the event, traditionally held during the winter sports pep rally, has grown so large that staff members were left with little choice but to give it a day all its own.
The school’s involvement with Beautiful Lengths began in December 2006, when English teacher Steve Juster learned about the program and handed out fliers to his students. Within a month, more than 60 students had pledged to get their pony tailed hair snipped off in front of their peers. Billed as the largest single donor site in the campaign’s history, the 2006 event was featured on “Good Morning America.” The initial event boasted 65 students and four staff members who donated their hair.
Last January, 189 people donated their hair during the winter pep rally: Juster said what typically happens is that several dozen or so new donors decide to participate in the final days leading up to the event.
So when 183 donors had already jumped on board by early December this year, Juster and school officials knew some changes would be needed.
As the result, the entire school community gathered for what has become a new tradition at Londonderry High School: the Celebration of Giving.
The regular winter sports pep rally will happen Jan. 28.
The night before Friday’s event, Juster counted what he believed to be the final donor tally. When he realized that number had exceeded 200 people, he was floored.
“This event has really blossomed,” Juster said. “More and more people are becoming involved.” Such dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed by national film production company Flow Non-Fiction, best known for their Tide Loads of Hope short films.
Two film crews arrived at the school last Thursday to begin filming and interviewing around 30 of this year’s donors.
“The selection process has been ongoing and based on the disclosure statements the girls fill out, and additional information we provide,” Juster said.
The film crews worked in conjunction with film production teacher Karen Robinson’s four camera teams: the end result will be featured on the Pantene Web site, on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
“This is their film to convey what Beautiful Lengths is all about, and they chose us,” Juster said.
Each snipped-off ponytail fromFriday’sdonorshaditsown “tale,” Juster further noted, with longtime school board member John Robinson and reigning Miss Monadnock Region and Miss New Hampshire contender Michelle Mayer among those making the final cut.
Later, many former classmates wiped away tears as Becca Tenney was recognized for her past support. Tenney, a former Pantene “angel,” died in September at the age of 16 after contracting viral meningitis.
Tenney’s sister, Kassie, and mother, Tammy, led the countdown to hair-cutting Friday.
Tammy Tenney said she and her daughters had donated well over 44 inches of hair to charities over the years, and attending the event seemed a fitting way to honor Becca’s memory.
“The strong are those who get up to battle each and every day,” she said, noting that Becca, who would have been a senior this year, had looked forward to donating her hair once again.
As part of the new Celebration of Giving, other benevolent LHS initiatives were likewise given recognition: from the recent holiday food drive resulting in hundreds of canned goods for the St. Jude Food Pantry, to the thousand or so toys collected for Toys for Tots this year, to the members of the school’s Athletic Leadership Council currently preparing to participate in the Feb. 5 Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach, which raises money for the Special Olympics.
Also honored were the 20 local hairstylists who provided their services free of charge Friday: adding polish and panache to the donors’ newly sheared heads.
Bridget Ryan, community executive for the American Cancer Society’s local branch, attended Friday’s ceremony, along with six of her colleagues.
Ryan estimated that around 7,000 Granite State residents will be diagnosed with cancer this year, though the mass community support generated by events like the one at Londonderry High School gives reason for hope.
For more information about Pantene Beautiful Lengths or to find ways to get involved, visit www.beautifullengths.com