York raises $20,000 for St. Baldrick's Foundation

York High School raises $20,000 for St. Baldrick's Foundation

  • York High School Assistant Principal Ryan Doherty had gone 22 months without a haircut before agreeing to go under the shears for a St. Baldrick's Foundation fundraiser in Elmhurst.

    York High School Assistant Principal Ryan Doherty had gone 22 months without a haircut before agreeing to go under the shears for a St. Baldrick's Foundation fundraiser in Elmhurst. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Caitlin Freeman of Great Clips works on York High School Assistant Principal Ryan Doherty during a St. Baldrick's Foundation event that raised about $20,000 to combat childhood cancer.

    Caitlin Freeman of Great Clips works on York High School Assistant Principal Ryan Doherty during a St. Baldrick's Foundation event that raised about $20,000 to combat childhood cancer. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The York High School Community raised more than $20,000 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

    The York High School Community raised more than $20,000 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Doherty holds the remains of some of his hair.

    Doherty holds the remains of some of his hair. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Volunteer Donna Revello, left, cuts Drew McGuire's hair during the St. Baldrick's Foundation pep rally at York High School in Elmhurst. Other faculty members sitting next to Revello are Joe O'Malley, Kevin Poduska and Mike DiNovo.

    Volunteer Donna Revello, left, cuts Drew McGuire's hair during the St. Baldrick's Foundation pep rally at York High School in Elmhurst. Other faculty members sitting next to Revello are Joe O'Malley, Kevin Poduska and Mike DiNovo. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • York Spanish teacher Joe O'Malley, left, prepares to mush a pie into the face of student Chris McCoy during the St. Baldrick's Foundation pep rally in Elmhurst.

    York Spanish teacher Joe O'Malley, left, prepares to mush a pie into the face of student Chris McCoy during the St. Baldrick's Foundation pep rally in Elmhurst. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/7/2017 6:00 AM

On the day before spring break, roughly 2,000 students crowded into the Green and White Gym at Elmhurst's York High School for a pep rally to celebrate their fundraising efforts to combat childhood cancer.

The students, along with parents and faculty members, had combined to raise nearly $20,000 for the nonprofit St. Baldrick's Foundation.

 

It was the first time the school had participated in a St. Baldrick's fundraiser and now it was time for a party that, among other events, would feature 15 people -- including students, faculty members and even a parent -- getting their heads shaved for the cause.

If there was going to be a star of the show, though, it was going to be Assistant Principal Ryan Doherty. Because if there was one thing Doherty was famous for in the hallways of York, it was his hair -- eight inches long and still growing.

So it was no surprise that Doherty was one of the last to go under the shears, much to the delight of the student body.

Hair today ...

Here's a little secret we'll share, but you've got to promise not to tell anyone: For most of his life, Ryan Doherty kept his hair pretty short.

It was short when he was in high school (York! Class of 1989!). It was short when he was studying musical theater at the University of Illinois, it was short when he was getting a bachelor's in English from Northern Illinois University, and it was short when he got his master's in education leadership from Aurora University.

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And it was still short when he decided to make education his life's work.

Then, about five years ago, on the brink of turning 40, he looked in the mirror and decided to give his hair some serious consideration.

Maybe, he thought, I should try wearing it long while I still can.

So when he walked into York four years ago for a job interview -- the first time he had been back since his graduation -- he already had established his new look: long hair and no tie. Darned if they didn't hire him.

And for most of his tenure at York, everybody who came to know Doherty also knew him as the guy with all that hair.

... gone tomorrow

Fast forward to earlier this school year when Spanish teacher Joseph O'Malley approached his colleagues at York with a plan to do a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

The nonprofit group was founded on July 4, 1999, by three people -- Tim Kenny, John Bender and Edna McDonnell -- working in the reinsurance industry who thought it would be cool to raise money for the Children's Oncology Group by seeking sponsors for folks willing to shave their heads.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Their first event was held in conjunction with a St. Patrick's Day party in 2000 at a Manhattan pub. The idea was to shave 17 heads and raise $17,000.

Instead, they shaved 19 heads and raised $104,000 and the foundation took off.

It's important, because the St. Baldrick's website at stbaldricks.org says more kids die of cancer each year in the United States than from any other disease. And, it says, one in every 285 U.S. kids will face cancer before they turn 20.

O'Malley knew all that, and had organized similar programs at other schools. In working with Assistant Principal Drew McGuire to pull the York event together, he told people that $5,000 would be a realistic goal for the inaugural fundraiser.

Doherty thought that number was a little low and offered to have his own locks shorn if it would help.

With Doherty in the fold, they started tossing around a few more numbers and settled on a new goal.

If students, faculty and parents could raise $15,000, Doherty said, he'd take the plunge.

The York community responded by raising nearly $20,000, and students already are talking about doing it again next year, but this time with more events leading up to the final pep rally.

"It's nice to see the kids are excited about it," Doherty says. "They know they have a lot and are pretty fortunate. It's great that they think about helping other people. Everyone involved kind of bought in."

Pep rally

The pep rally featured all sorts of events.

O'Malley, for example, made a bet with student Chris McCoy: The one who raised the most money would get to hit the other in the face with a pie. O'Malley won and McCoy took one for the team.

But the real highlight was Doherty and his hair, which last saw a pair of scissors about 22 months ago.

He says he had shaved his head once before in support of a friend with breast cancer, but that time he was sitting in his kitchen. This time he was sitting in front of 2,000 kids.

And when the hair started falling at the hands of Caitlin Freeman of Great Clips, the face he made was priceless.

Now, nearly two weeks later, he admits he still feels "phantom hair."

Every once in a while he'll find himself reaching up to push his hair behind his ears, "or I try to put it into a ponytail and all I feel are nubs."

The coolest part of the experience, though, wasn't hearing the cheers when his locks fluttered to the floor, he says. The coolest part was when O'Malley took the mic at the start of the event and asked 2,000 kids gearing up for spring break to watch a video about the work the St. Baldrick's Foundation does.

"The whole gym went very quiet," Doherty says, "and the students just sat there and watched it in total silence. They were so respectful. Then they clapped. It's what makes me proud to be an administrator at York."

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