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Pretty in Pink

Merry Killam's son is a sturdy young man of 15. He plays in the trenches for an undefeated football team, mixing it up daily in practices and weekly in games. Hand fighting, head butting, blocking, tackling. He wouldn't be considered soft or meek.

Except, perhaps, when Daniel recently made a sheepish request of his mother.

"He said, 'Mom, this is going to sound kind of silly,'" said Merry, "'but do you know where I can get some pink tape?'"

Pink never had been her son's color, but Merry had an inkling of what he was up to. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer days earlier and figured it had something to do with that.

To what extent, she didn't know until she arrived at the Cascade Christian High junior varsity game Thursday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

There was pink, all right. On the Challenger players' helmets, on their wrists, on their shoes. Some had pink mouth guards. Others wrapped pink tape around the bars of their face masks.

The coaches were in on it, too, adorning the color symbolic of the fight against breast cancer on their hats and as armbands.

Merry, 44, showed up to support her son's team, but it ran a reverse on her.

"I was moved," she says. "It's hard to come up with a good word for that. There's been a lot of stuff to deal with, but it was good."

Pink was in bloom, but so was prayer. As meaningful as the wristbands and such were, so was the postgame gathering that had players, coaches and fans gathered on the field.

"That was probably the most moving thing," says Merry. "To have all that support and be held up in prayer was a powerful thing for me."

And for anyone else who was a part of it.

"It was awesome," said coach Barry Fronek, who confirmed there was no shortage of emotion. "It was great."

Even the officials were tuned in. The local association has pink whistles on order, said Fronek, as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But they hadn't arrived yet, the coach was told.

"They were cool with everything," he said.

The Killam family got Merry's diagnosis at the end of last week. Daniel's first thought was, what could he do to help.

"There are other people out there with this," he said. "It's not just us. You see the pink ribbons on the back of cars, and the wristbands are cool."

The sophomore center and defensive tackle and sophomore teammates Dillon Huntley and Andrew Sha discussed it while they stretched before practice Tuesday. They found they couldn't wear wristbands while playing because a player could get a finger caught in one and get injured.

Then came the suggestion of pink duct tape.

By Wednesday morning they had the tape — to go along with 40 wristbands they'd gotten from Rogue Valley Medical Center to wear when not on the field. By lunch, kids were bringing in helmets to be decorated.

It wasn't just the football team, either, that was caught up in the project.

"A bunch of people at school were asking if they could have one (wristband) and if we had extras," said Daniel. "Very quickly, I ran out of extras."

He also learned some parents of schoolmates had gotten wind of the situation and made donations to breast cancer research.

"That was on their own initiative," said Daniel. "I thought, 'Wow, this is pretty cool.'"

"Our football team is like a family," he said. "If one guy has a problem or situation, we get together and talk about it. It's phenomenal how this school comes together when there's a common goal that needs to be done. It's a great show of family and devotion to each other."

That message had been embedded by game time.

Even the visiting Glide players were good sports, said Daniel, in the face of the Challengers' barrage of pink.

"They all had great attitudes," he said. "We were all thoroughly impressed."

His mother will have surgery next week. She approaches her predicament as something "that needs to be taken care of," and she's thankful for outpouring for her and her family.

"As concerning as it is," she said, "I'm really confident that we'll beat it and move on."

As for the football game, final score was 26-14, Cascade Christian.

Yet there were far more winners than the scoreboard indicated.

"It does your heart good to hear about kids like that and see how they move into action," said Merry Killam. "Sometimes teenagers these days get a bad rap, and it's not always true."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Cascade Christian JV player Daniel Killam, left, and his teammates wore plenty of pink in their game Thursday. - Jamie Lusch