One day while at a coaching convention in New York three and a half years ago, girls soccer coach Tom Iffrig and assistant coach Scott Johnson were walking past a manufacturer's display for its new pink soccer balls and had a wonderful, simultaneous idea.
"We both looked at them, and then at the same time, we turned to each other and said, 'we should do a cancer awareness game'," Iffrig said, on Thursday, after Pattonville played in the Third Annual Kicks For Cancer event at .
"We talked to some people about it, and kind of put it together quickly. And now three years later, it's grown into all this."
All this, is an event that while still in its infancy, has grown into an occasion that has raised thousands of dollars for cancer research and awareness, and has taught nearly every student-athlete at Pattonville High, the importance of giving back to the community.
"It's a really big deal to all of us that play sports at Pattonville," Pirate senior soccer, softball, and basketball captain Kailey Utley said. "We all know somebody that's had a fight with cancer, so it's something that's important to all of us. So we just try to do what we can to let the survivors and those that are still fighting, that we're there with them."
For Thursday's event, which included showdown soccer matchups between rivals and , and and , each player and coach from all four teams was asked to name someone they know who has been touched by the deadly disease.
And in between games, some of those friends and family members were brought onto the field for a special ceremony, where players game them a pink rose to acknowledge that person's fight against cancer.
There were hardly any tears, just lots of smiles and hugs, as the full rosters from all four teams took time to tell their loved ones, 'we support your fight.'
"We all have to kind of do our part in this," Iffrig said. "We've had a lot of success with the 'Pink Out' game with Coach Gregory and the basketball team, and it's really cool that so many people get behind us with this event."
This is third year that Pattonville and Hazelwood West have played one another, with both schools hosting a Kicks For Cancer Game the last two year.
Then, as Iffrig looked to expand the event and include more schools, Parkway South and Parkway Central were invited to join in, with Central's PCH Stadium serving as the host location this year.
"We just thought it'd be great to get some more schools involved," Iffrig said. "And the Parkways were right in line with what we were trying to do, so it worked out great.
"I really have to give (event organizer) Karen Derksen most of the credit. She's really just taken the ball and run with this and made it a great event every year. She's been working on everything for months."
And Derksen should be quite proud with the turnout and results on Thursday, as a goal of raising at least $10,000 was set, and Iffrig said that although all the donation and ticket sales funds haven't been totaled, he expects that Thursday's event will pass that number with ease.
That is an exponential improvement after the first Kicks For Cancer barely raised $1,000.
Last year, when Derksen had a full year to work on organizing the event, a goal of raising at least $2,000 was set, which was easily doubled in donations alone, never mind what the Kicks For Cancer T-shirts and equipment raffles brought in.
"It's just awesome that this thing has grown into what it has," Iffrig said. "Karen's worked so hard, and the girls do so much to help. We're just really proud of what Kicks For Cancer has become."
Thursday's event was an especially emotional day for Iffrig, who had dedicated the day to his grandfather Cyril, who passed away years ago after a long battle with prostate cancer, but was also thinking of his longtime friend and teaching partner Pete Barrett, who's daughter Ashlee was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Ashlee Barrett, 22, teaches second grade at Orchard Farm Elementary, and just began chemotherapy treatments this week.
"They're a strong family, and really tough people, so I know they'll get through it," Iffrig said. "But I want to make sure and mention them, so they know I'm thinking of them."