By Dedra Cordle
Berkley Brown does not hold to the opinion that pushups are a form of punishment, but that does not mean the 9-year-old likes to do them either.
“I am not a fan,” she said.
As a cheerleader, Brown says she knows they are an important aspect in building strength for her sport, which is why she doesn’t put up too much of a fuss when they come up in conditioning.
“I’ll do them,” she said, “but I would rather be doing just about anything else.”
In her wildest dreams, Brown never imagined she would do them on a voluntary basis and yet that is what she – along with 150 other members of the Grove City Kids Association youth football division – did on the night of Oct. 7 at Murfin Field.
“It was for a good cause,” she said, laughing as her mother Jennifer accused her of being a secret fan of pushups. “I just wanted to help.”
Her expressed desire to lend a helping hand was shared by all who participated in Pushing for a Cure.
It was early this summer when Shawn Conner, the association’s youth football commissioner, discussed hosting a fundraiser for a worthy cause.
“We had done something similar a few years ago for the Wounded Warrior Project and I just thought it would be a wonderful thing to bring back,” he said.
As he spoke with the association’s board, his fellow coaches and parents, they determined the funds should benefit an organization that helps cancer patients, survivors and their families.
“We have all known someone who has had cancer,” he said. “It’s touched us all.”
As the group whittled down which organization to name as the benefactor, the face of Gabe McLaughlin kept popping up in Conner’s mind.
It was shortly after the then 11-year-old successfully fought brain cancer when he joined the association’s youth football league.
“He had never played before,” he explained “but he wasn’t scared of anything. He never let what happened to him get in the way of making hits or taking hits. He always did everything with a smile on his face.”
The decision to let Gabe play football, said his mother Bobbie McCleery, wasn’t an easy one.
“Gabe had been hounding me to let him play football years before his cancer diagnosis but I was never convinced,” she said.
What propelled her to say yes was both the doctor’s assessment that it would be OK for him to do so and a personal plea from her son.
“He said he didn’t want to let cancer define him,” she said. “I really do think playing football helped in his recovery because it allowed him to be a kid again.”
Shortly after Gabe completed his first season on the field, he started to get seizures again. His parents took him back to the doctors where they were told the cancer had come back.
As with his first diagnosis, the community rallied around the family, as did their caseworkers. One organization McCleery was put into contact with was Nellie’s Champions for Kids.
The local non-profit, which was formed 13 years ago by a teenager, assists families in a variety of ways. Mandy Powell, the executive director of NC4K, said they are able to help families by offering financial assistance, emotional support, or through the organization of family outings.
“Our ultimate goal is that we want kids to feel like kids and for families to feel like families,” she said.
McCleery said she couldn’t speak more highly of the organization.
“One of our favorite memories is of their holiday party,” she said. “We all had such a blast.”
She added that whenever the opportunity arises, she speaks glowingly of NC4K. And that is how Conner came to suggest them as the fundraising benefactors.
Powell said she was delighted the non-profit organization was chosen but did scratch her head at Pushing for a Cure.
“There have been many fundraising events for Nellie’s Champions for Kids but I cannot recall any that have involved doing pushups for our cause,” she said with a laugh. “I thought it was very inventive if not a little unconventional.”
Conner said he just wanted to pick an activity that all children can engage in.
“Pushups are something both boys and girls can do and it’s something even our kindergarteners can do,” he said. “It is also very competitive because you’re always trying to break a personal best or get one more than the next person.”
Powell said watching the event was a real joy, adding that it is always inspiring to see children participate in fundraising efforts.
For close to an hour, an estimated 200 youths ranging from kindergarteners to sixth-graders completed more than 2,000 pushups and raised thousands of dollars for NC4K.
While McCleery was on hand for the event – which Conner hopes will take place annually – her son, however, was not able to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
“He’s at football practice right now,” she said with a laugh. “He plays on the freshman team for Franklin Heights High School.”
She said sports, especially football and the comradery that comes with it, continue to be a bright spot in their lives.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” she said. “We don’t know when or if Gabe’s brain tumor is going to return but we do know that we are going to take it one day at a time and pay it forward and help others in any way that we can.”