The toughest kids on the sidelines at the football game between Youngstown State University and Central Connecticut State weren’t the ones wearing pads and football jerseys.
They were the group of young fighters celebrating Survivors Day with a tailgate party, sideline passes and a halftime balloon launch held in their honor.
Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley’s Hematology/Oncology department hosted nearly 20 child cancer survivors at the outing for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which also recognizes children affected by Sickle Cell Disease and other hematology disorders.
It was the sixth year Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley held an event for cancer survivors, and the first time at a YSU football game.
The thousands of fans in attendance stood for a moment of silence to honor all children battling cancer during an emotional moment at halftime while the group from Akron Children’s released balloons into the air from the south end zone.
“It was awesome to see how the football players, band members and YSU staff interacted with the children and their parents,” said Shari Harmon, clinical coordinator, Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. “You could have heard a pin drop with the silence when the balloons were launched to honor and remember everyone affected by childhood cancer and hematology disorders.”
Camilla Kalafat, 3, of Cortland, took in the sights and sounds up close from the sidelines as players and members of the marching band stopped over and wished her well.
“She’s been cancer-free since April,” said her father, Justin. “She was so excited to be part of this and go out on the field.”
Camilla’s sister, Capri, and mother, Heidi, were also able to share in the experience.
Hunter and Emma Zitkovic, 7 and 5, from New Middletown, both have hematology disorders. Their parents, Melissa and Eric, were grateful to Akron Children’s for planning the event and said it was their kids’ first YSU football game.