SOUTHINGTON - The 21st Annual Relay For Life drew survivors and supporters to Southington High School Friday to raise money for cancer research.
Joyce McAloon said the event has raised $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society’s research and programs since its inception.
McAloon said in the 12 years since she became involved, the relay has received widespread community support.
“We usually have anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 people depending on the weather,” she said. “Southington has a lot of cancer survivors and although we have lost many, we are losing less due to research and good medicine.”
A large number of teams participated Friday, decorating their tents with the themes of classic board games such as UNO and Sorry. Teams would walk around the athletic field from 4 p.m. Friday to 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
“In a town of 43,000 people we couldn’t ask for anything better,” said McAloon.
McAloon is a survivor herself, having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She has been in remission for 12 years. She retired from teaching at Flanders Elementary though she has continued to assist as a substitute teacher.
She noted that students at Flanders raised $4,000 for the relay with a “Penny Wars” and an additional $250 with a kickball game between fifth graders and teachers.
This year’s Relay for Life was dedicated to another longtime supporter and founder of the event who unfortunately lost her battle with cancer last September: Rosemary Champagne. Champagne, who owned Hair Expo in town for 43 years, battled cancer for 34 years. She supported the relay for its first 20 years.
Jim Champagne, who was married to Rosemary for 51 years, said that she “dedicated her life” to the cause.
“To learn that the relay had been dedicated to her memory was quite a moment,” he said.
Antonietta Barbota, who was part of the UNO-themed team from Sorelle D’Italia in America, said the organization was bringing three-dozen participants to the relay.
“We have members who are survivors and we have also lost members from cancer,” she said. “We have been coming out to support the relay for four or five years - it’s a good way to bring people together for a good cause.”
Toree Saunders, from Meriden, had a team tent set up with a Sorry theme. Their group walked the track with pink shirts saying “Hopes and Dreams.”
“This is my first year here,” she said. “Me and my sister Patricia put this team together on behalf of our loved ones and friends of the family who are fighting cancer.”
The Rev. Victoria Triano later opened the event with an invocation.
“This is the night of hope and remembering,” she said. “This is a night of vision where everybody is united behind the need to find a cure for cancer and they stand together. There are no big and little shots here, in this we are all the same.”
Town Council Chairman Chris Palmieri would later provide opening remarks.
The Knights of Columbus walked with teams around the track for a ceremonial first walk with survivors.
After the survivor walk, there was a dinner with food provided by town restaurants. Survivors spoke and shared their stories during a “fight back” ceremony. After this, there was a butterfly release.
The relay also included activities for kids, a live band, a bagpipe player and a lip synch contest. Two high school trumpet players would also later play “Taps” in memory of those lost.
Awards were presented for best team tent and door prizes were also awarded.
The Relay For Life concluded Saturday morning with a breakfast provided for participants.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.