There was a battle on the football field Friday night at Schalmont High School and an all-too-real battle off it.
The battle on the field pitted Schalmont and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in a meeting of two of the area’s top high school football teams. Off the field, the teams joined forces to battle pediatric cancer.
It’s a fight that has affected both teams: A Schalmont football player and the young son of the Burnt Hills head coach have both battled cancer.
To see that unity, all that was necessary was to look at the players’ shoelaces, or the lollipops and glow necklaces in the stands. All were gold, the color of pediatric cancer awareness.
It may have been Schalmont’s annual homecoming game, but it was also Cancer Awareness Night, an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the cause.
Schalmont parent Joanne Gigler, mother of Schalmont sophomore player Kyle Gigler, wore two gold glow necklaces as she cheered on her team.
“It’s something that we really need to work on finding a cure for,” Gigler said, “and to be able to be a part of it, and to support both teams and all the people who are here who have survived cancer, it’s touching. It gives me chills.”
Both teams’ connections to the cause are deep. Schalmont junior tackle Dante Gallucci has made a remarkable comeback from a form of cancer similar to leukemia. At Burnt Hills, young Jacob Shell, son of head coach Matt Shell, fought his own battle with a rare childhood cancer and is now healthy.
Prior to the game, Matt Shell — who has also battled cancer — presented a $10,000 check to the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Albany Medical Center on behalf of his ShellStrong Foundation and in honor of both Dante and his son. Donations at the gate were also to go to Melodies.
Receiving the check from Matt Shell was Dr. Jennifer Pearce, who is credited with being instrumental in treating both Dante and Jacob.
Dante’s mother, Teri Gallucci, said the awareness night seemed a natural, especially with the unique connection between the teams.
“It was a great opportunity to look at Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and say we can really do something nice,” she said.
The glow necklaces, lollipops and shoelaces were donated by the Maddie’s Mark Foundation, an organization based in Guilderland and named for 5-year-old Madeline Musto, who died of cancer. The lollipops had a message: “Let’s lick pediatric cancer.”
Gallucci credited the support of the Schalmont community with helping her son get better.
“He still has a little ways to go with treatment,” Gallucci said, “but overall it’s wonderful. You can see the support.”
Among the many out in support of the cause was Colin Farley, whose son Aedhan plays seventh-grade modified football.
“There’s a mutual respect between Burnt Hills and Schalmont,” Farley said. “They have a lot of history going back and a lot of current history because of the cancer.”
He recalled Dante Gallucci thanking everyone for their support.
“He’s such a great guy,” Farley said.
Alicia Borini has known Gallucci for years; his mother is one of her best friends. She held a sign supporting Dante, one with multiple light-up stars.
Borini has been affected by cancer not only through Gallucci but also in her own family. She commended the community, as well as Gallucci’s peers, for all they’ve done to support him and the fight against cancer.
“These are teenagers that are giving and are caring and are thinking of others,” Borini said, “at an age when most teenagers are thinking of themselves.”