Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

May 16, 2013

Former Colts player visits St. Mary’s

Amanda Browning
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Cancer is a sensitive topic that almost everyone can relate to, whether by having it themselves or knowing another person who has had to fight that brutal battle.

It's an unfortunate fact that far too rarely do people get to say they know someone who beat cancer and survived.

Students and staff at St. Mary’s school not only know a cancer survivor, but they participated in a program to raise money for other patients in his honor.

St. Mary’s first grade student, Owen Stephens, was diagnosed with Burkitts Lymphoma when he was three-years-old. Owen beat the cancer and is now a healthy, happy boy. When he started school at St. Mary’s last year, his class began participating in the Pennies for Patients program through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) in his honor.

St. Mary’s continued the tradition this year, starting in Owen’s first grade class. Jen Blankman’s class led the effort and the result was astounding.

St. Mary’s was honored Thursday by the LLS for raising the most money per capita in the state of Indiana. In just three short weeks, the 165 students raised more than $2000, equaling out to over $12 per student. The school held a number of activities and challenges to raise money with wild success. Gary Brackett, former Colts player, along with Elissa Evernham and Mariel Price from Pennies for Patients, visited the school to honor them for their accomplishment. The school had a blue and white day in Brackett's honor. The assembled students appeared to be a sea of blue and white as they took their seats on the bleachers.  

In the first week, St. Mary’s hosted a “Pound for Pound” challenge. Each classroom competed to have the heaviest amount of change, with Blankman matching the winning classroom’s change pound for pound with chocolate. The winning class collected 25 pounds of change. For one dollar, students could guess how many pennies were in a jar and the correct guesser was able to add the jar full of pennies to their class collection. There was also a Sports Day Friday, where students could pay $1 to wear sporty clothing that was not part of the St. Mary’s dress code. During the first week, students raised $800.

The second week brought the “Rock That Ravioli” theme, where students could pay $5 and listen to music while they dined. Students were allowed to bring in Walkmans, mp3 players, iPods and mini radios to listen to during lunch. Students were permitted to participate as often as they liked, as long as they paid $5 each time. Friday of the second week, students were allowed to wear anything they liked outside of the St. Mary’s dress code for $1 per item.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the third week began the “Gender Wars” at St. Mary’s. Boys were pitted against girls to see which gender could collect the most loose change. Students reported raiding piggy banks and couch cushions to find money. All students who contributed wrote their names on a paper penny, which went into a jar for a daily drawing. The winner of the drawing each day was given a roll of pennies to add to their gender’s collection. Winners were announced Thursday, and the winning gender from each grade was allowed to dress out of code on Friday for free. Non-winning genders were permitted to dress out of code for a $5 fee. When asked by Brackett who won the gender wars, the student body offered a definitive (and loud) answer - boys.

When it was announced that Gary Brackett would be visiting the school to honor them for their achievement, all students were asked to write a question for the former Indianapolis Colts linebacker, and 20 students were chosen to read their questions to him during the presentation. Students offered a variety of insightful and interesting questions, covering everything from Sierra Lang’s, “Do you have any advice for female football players?” to Owen Stephens', “What made you get involved with the LLS?” Brackett offered honest, funny answers, often earning laughter from the assembled students.

Brackett became involved with the LLS eight years ago when his brother was diagnosed with cancer. Brackett wanted to help his brother through the immensely difficult task of battling cancer, and during his trips to the hospital, he saw many children afflicted with different forms of the disease. The former NFL player credited his faith as something that helped him endure the difficult trials life threw at him.

Brackett said if he could make an impact on anything, he wanted it to be cancer. He then went on to start Gary Brackett’s IMPACT Foundation, where the main goals are to promote health and advance education by providing opportunities for healing and growth to children all across Indiana.

Brackett and the Pennies for Patients representatives presented St. Mary’s with a banner before the assembly was dismissed. Students in Blankman’s class stayed and got autographs from Brackett on items they brought to school, as well as taking pictures. Brackett brought copies of his book, Winning: From Walk-On to Captain, in Football and Life, and signed them for all the students in Blankman’s first grade class. Students and staff were elated by the visit and next year intend to raise even more money for the LLS.

Students at St. Mary’s have learned more about what it means to have cancer through this process as well. Blankman’s students talked about it and interviewed both Owen Stephens and his mother. Owen was ill on the kick off day for Pennies for Patients and the class talked about his struggle. When asked if he was proud of what his class and school achieved, Stephens said yes. He stated that he enjoyed the competitions and particularly liked the gender wars. Owen said he would like to continue the program next year and beyond as he grows up. Owen said he wanted to help other children be well and just wished he could stay at St. Mary’s through seventh and eighth grade so he could raise money to help others and still be with his friends.

More photos can be found at

Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004