Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spirit Teams: How to Make the Most Impact with your Pink Out Game

Since I have over twenty years of dance team involvement and expertise under my belt, a sizeable majority of my Facebook friends fit into one or more of the following categories: current and former dancers or cheerleaders, coaches, choreographers, contest judges, spirit coordinators, and employees of the industry that keep the whole world of cheerleading and dance afloat.  As such, my News Feed is always full of photos and updates commemorating tryouts, visits from choreographers, travels abroad to teach or judge, and of course, gameday pictures.  These status updates generally instill me with a treasured connectedness, and I have welcomed this over the last nine months when I often felt disconnected from the dance team world.  Lately, I've seen lots of sideline shots with pink poms and ribbons attached to uniforms along with loads of pink athletic gear, and I feel particularly connected to these images.

You see, after working through Stage IIa breast cancer (with a newborn and a toddler in tow) and later, through a year of treatment for Stage IV breast cancer, I decided to retire at the ripe old age of 41.  Giving my all to my hard-won and much-cherished sales position in the dance team industry and trying to survive a grueling chemotherapy regimen were no longer compatible.  Even as I get longer in the tooth and wider at the waistline, I have continued to think about a way to stay in the dance world's orbit. Why? I recognize this compulsion is purely and embarrassingly selfish; I miss making an impact in the lives of others!

Why are there so many men and women of a certain age who continue to work with cheerleaders and dancers?  We are all chasing the buzz we caught after our very first experience teaching a class.  We miss the power of leading a crowd to fever-pitch fury when the score is tight and the players are growing weary.  We all jones for the payoff from watching a team passionately embody an idea that sprang from our own heads to achieve their own personal success.  We even miss the admonishment to watch how we behave on college campuses, in restaurants, and even in the local mall because someone who once stood in front of us, sweating, vulnerable, and desperate to please, may recognize us and geek out a little.  We are all addicted to the impact we've had on others!  Today, on the 16th day of "Pinktober", I am writing this missive in efforts to mobilize those I've had the honor of impacting in the past, to help impact my life. 


If your team or your school is participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here is a suggestion for ways to really make a difference with your upcoming Pink Out Game:

When buying pink pomspink spirit gear, or even shopping around for pink football gear, notice whether or not any proceeds go toward breast cancer research.  If you don't see anything about a portion of sales being donated to the actual cause for which you are raising awareness, reach out to that company and create a dialogue.  Are they doing their part in the fight against the disease, or are they merely enjoying a profit from selling pink gear, emblazoned with slogans they themselves are not actually supporting?  Unfortunately, even the most well-respected purveyors are not donating money to breast cancer research. 

Until they do, consider making your own!  Invite your athletic teams to take a little time out of regularly scheduled practice and have a Pink Party.  Tie-dye some plain athletic gear magenta, fuchsia, and powder pink.  Ask a few parents or teachers to volunteer their time to serve healthful pink pre- or post-workout treats like pink fruit (watermelon, pink grapefruit, and Pink Lady apples) or some DIY pink energy drinks.

You ask, Why not just pay the money for the sharp pink spirit gear and get on with it? There is tremendous educational merit to teaching these young, influential people about conscious commerce. To raise awareness, you need to begin with those that are doing the raising.  Speaking of raising, your team probably raises funds to pay for all their gear, but even if the school pays for the Pink Out, I'm sure the administration will appreciate your conscientious budgeting.

Here's another harsh reality: merely wearing pink at a game does not, in fact, raise breast cancer awareness.  It only serves as a visual indicator to your crowd that something different is going on.  Don't leave your fans hanging: maximize your community impact while you have the chance!

1) Contact your area florist for pricing on corsages or boutonnieres with reasonably-priced pink flowers (carnations, Gerbera daisies, chrysanthemums) to establish the cost of community participation.  See if your florist can give you a volume discount.  Maybe your florist can write off a portion of the expense on his or her taxes as well.

2) For several games prior to the Pink Out, set up a table near the ticket booth or the concession stand and man it with uniformed teammates or parents.  For the cost of the flowers plus money that will be donated to a named breast cancer research organization, invite your fans to acknowledge people who are involved in the fight against breast cancer.  Participants need to provide the person's name, how they are involved, and contact information (phone number and/or email) for this person as well as the cost you've calculated to cover the flowers and the donation.  You can include people who have completed treatment, people who are still in treatment, and people who have succumbed to breast cancer; in the case of the latter, also ask for the name and contact person of a spouse or child who will be acknowledged on his or her behalf. You can also acknowledge nurses, doctors, and regular volunteers at your local hospital's breast oncology unit.  Make sure to provide the game announcer a script about what you are doing so your fans are aware and can participate.

3) Contact the people to be acknowledged and let them know they have been nominated to be acknowledged at this year's Annual Pink Out Game.  They will be announced and invited to come to the field or court to receive a boutonniere or corsage from an athlete.  Ask the honorees to meet to the side of the field or court when there are 15 minutes left on the clock before halftime.  Be sure to put them in the order you plan to have them announced. If they cannot or do not wish to attend, don't forget to make a list of these people whom you will acknowledge in name only.

4) After the last game before the Pink Out, turn in the total amount of boutonnieres and corsages to the florist and schedule the pickup for the flowers. Make sure to subtract the number of honorees who will not attend and send 100% of that person's donation to your organization of choice.

5) On Pink Out Day, wear all your pink gear!  Have the admission booth hand out a flyer to each person with an explanation of the Pink Out ceremony and a list of the honorees, participating businesses and organizations and on one side, and then ten lesser known facts about breast cancer on the other side. On the flyer, be sure to remind the honorees to meet at 15 minutes left on the clock prior to halftime!

6) Did the proceeds of any of the gear go toward a breast cancer research fund?  Before listing the honorees, have the announcer mention this to the audience, citing the company and research fund's name.  It goes without saying that you should ask the announcer to give tremendous thanks to your florist.  Acknowledge these companies who are truly in the fight for the cure! 

6) Announce the honorees one by one.  Have them take the field where they will receive their flowers from an athlete.  Have a parent with a good camera?  Take a group picture of all the honorees.  Also, take each honoree's photo with the athlete who gave them their flowers and either email the photo or print it off and send it to the honoree in thanks for their participation and their fight to end breast cancer!

Too late, you say, October is almost over. Guess what?  It's never too late.  If you can't make it happen this football season, begin talks with your basketball coach and athletic director about doing it in the wintertime.  If that won't work, collar your baseball or softball coach.  Remember that breast cancer has no season.

Otherwise, is there another cause that hits close to home?  Is a teacher or athlete's parent in the fight of their life?  Research other awareness months and their corresponding ribbon colors. Look at other causes that affect your community (autism, ALS, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis) and use the idea above to create meaningful awareness in your school and community.