Photo source: Olean Times Herald
Everyone knows that some rivalries can get pretty heated - especially when sports are involved. However, two football teams recognize that there is something more important - supporting a girl with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Although she was a cheerleader for the football team, they are now turning the tables and cheering her on.
Everyone in the area knows that the rivalry is intense, and some don't even know how it started. All they know is that when Cuba-Rushford and Bolivar-Richburg meet, it's sure to be a battle.
The first game in the records was in 1947, and Bolivar won 19-0 under a very famous coach - Milt Lattimer. It seems the rest is history, as ever since the two compete regularly with significant anticipation and intensity, from the players and the fans. The two schools in Allegany County are very close, only fifteen miles apart, meaning that everyone in the area likes to get in on the action.
The Wellsville paper described one of their recent meetings as "one for the ages," in which Bolivar beat Cuba 21-20, which had not happened in their eight prior meetings (dating all the way back to 2008).
However, they decided to put their differences aside for something both can agree is more important than a rivalry - one of the Bolivar-Richburg cheerleaders, Heidi Sturdevant.
This past summer, Heidi began to feel a frustration that she could not quite get a handle on. Her doctor's didn't understand either, but she knew something was wrong. She was a crucial member of the cheerleading team, cheering all year round for track and field, football, and basketball. For an outside, it would be impossible to know anything was wrong. However, at the end of the summer she finally received her diagnosis - Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Heidi and her family were shocked. While she knew something was wrong, she never could have anticipated something so serious at such a young age. Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma attacks lymphocytes (blood cells in the immune system) and is very severe on patients. However, Heidi was brave and began her treatment and fortunately, the condition will not be life-threatening.
Now, Heidi tries to come to school whenever she is able, although she often struggles. Even though she can't be a part of the pyramid herself, she is able to be a student assistant to the cheerleading team, still remaining an important member. She comes to the practices and games whenever she can - even sitting in the car watching from the parking lot when it is too cold.
What do her family and teammates think about her?
They know she's going to beat this, as her positive attitude and bright personality have not been taken from her in the slightest. Her cheerleading coach explains, "she still acts like that even though she's been going through this. She ended up losing her hair and still came to the game that night. She was picking out wigs and ended up coming with one, and she didn't care. She has no fear. She's an incredible, incredible girl ... She's very upbeat, she's extremely helpful. She's so humble about it, she's not seeking attention by any means."
She goes on to explain, "if anybody else knew that they weren't going to be able to do something because of this, they'd probably accept it. She went out of her way to ask if she could still be part of the team. She doesn't take anything for granted, she's extremely generous. And if anything ever happened to anybody else, she would be the first person to want to step in and help. That's Heidi."
However, it isn't just Heidi supporting her team - they support her right back. That night that she came to the game, they presented her with a purple ribbon to adorn her new wig. Purple represents awareness for Hodgkin's lymphoma, and while this was a beautiful gesture, she could not have imagined what happened next. Nearly everyone at the school incorporated purple into their wardrobes to show support of their friend and peer; the soccer teams even wore purple jerseys. Some students began an initiative selling purple t-shirts displaying the message "Heidi Strong" - and hundreds were sold within days. When one walks through the hall of the school, everywhere they look purple ribbons will be visible. At another game, the football team offered her purple carnations.
All of these gestures have meant the world to Heidi. She has often had to travel to Rochester in order to complete her treatments, and her cycles have progressed, meaning that she has to miss even more school and cheerleading practices. This disappoints Heidi, as she loves being around her team and classmates, but the support she sees truly gets her through the hard times.
The Hyphen Bowl
The athletic director at Bolivar-Richburg, Dustin Allen, knows Heidi well due to her involvement in sports. He is also one of the major supporters of the "Hyphen Bowl," a football event that is said to support "unity, hope and a fearlessness that goes beyond football" and this year will be supporting Heidi. He explained the motive behind the event for many of the players, "it's something that they're encouraged she's going to be able to beat. It does sound bad, but the hope is that she's going to be able to live a long and healthy life ... She's got a great group of friends here at school. A lot of supporting staff and family members."
The Hyphen Bowl has had an effect on both schools, and the rivalry seems to have (at least temporarily) dissipated. Each student, from either school, is so inspired by Heidi's story that they can only really focus on how excited they are to support her.
A 50/50 raffle at the event will be donated to Heidi's family, get well soon cards were made for her, and more t-shirts to support her will be sold.
One of the biggest pieces of symbolism at the event? Normally people wear red or blue to support their respective teams, but for Heidi, everyone will be wearing purple, on both sides. Ideally, they will be wearing the "Heidi Strong" t-shirts.
Heidi's coach explained, "I know that it's always been a rivalry; close towns, always growing up playing each other. So the fact that everybody is doing this together is pretty amazing. Everybody was on board, everybody was ordering shirts ... It's always so competitive ... and now all for this one girl."
Indeed, it all is for Heidi. However, all who know her feel as if they are just doing what they know she would have done for them, as her support and loyalty is unwavering even in the face of her own adversities. While Heidi is overwhelmed with joy at all her community is doing to support her, her biggest goal is to be able to get treated and return to being a normal student. Of course, she is also dying to get back to cheerleading practice - and hopes to be back by basketball season. Some say this is a lofty goal, but Heidi is proving that there's nothing she can't do.