Students Come Together in Orange in Honor of Chad Carr

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By Jeff Arnold

The “Friday Night Lights” landscape surrounding high school football has always been one painted in colors, each of which carries a sense of pride and loyalty.

Student sections, separated by a field of green, enthusiastically cheer on their respective schools and remain divided by the shades of blues, yellows, reds, and white. But when students from Monroe High School make the 33-mile trek to Saline for the varsity showdown between the two schools on September 17, their traditional allegiances will be put aside in exchange for a common goal. And a shared color.

Both student sections will turn into a sea of orange in support of the ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation in preparation for their annual RunTough for ChadTough Defeat DIPG 5K & 1M Fun Run that will be held both virtually and in person at Saline Hornet Stadium the following weekend. For the past five years, the annual Orange Out game has helped to raise awareness of the deadliest form of childhood brain cancer, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which affects between 200 and 400 children in the United States each year.

For Monroe High School senior Gabby Anderson, participating in Orange Out events dates back to middle school, when the story of Chad Carr’s battle with the deadly disease took shape for a group of students and a school that otherwise had no connection to the courageous little boy the ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation honors.

Anderson, the president of Monroe’s Pep Club, says the fact that she and her fellow students will now participate in the event in Saline speaks volumes about the impact that the mission of ChadTough has made on those who have become familiar with Chad’s story over the past few years.

Anderson has also been part of other events meant to raise awareness for various causes, but when a name and face become associated with the effort, the mission becomes even more meaningful for students who are learning to contribute to something bigger than themselves, she said. Now, the common mission will become bigger than a Friday night football rivalry.

“It will be really surreal to look around and see everyone dressed in orange supporting the same thing,” Anderson said. “I think it speaks volumes to have us set aside the petty high school drama, set aside this student section versus that student section, and for all of us to be on the same page and working toward the same goal.”

“I think this is so special we’re doing this.”

Katie Oberdorf, who teaches at Monroe Middle School, laid the foundation of support for ChadTough immediately after Chad passed away from DIPG in 2015. Although she calls Ohio home, Oberdorf admittedly bleeds blue – thanks to her loyalty to the University of Michigan.

After learning of Chad’s DIPG diagnosis, Oberdorf said she immediately connected with Chad’s story and the way DIPG forever changed the lives of Chad’s parents, Jason and Tammi Carr, and their sons, C.J. and Tommy. In a Monroe school district where cancer has impacted staff members and students alike over the past several years, Oberdorf began to share the mission of ChadTough at her school, which instituted an Orange Out at the annual student-faculty basketball game starting in 2015.

Ever since, the tradition has carried on not only at the middle school, but has extended to the high school, where students like Anderson who first learned of DIPG as seventh and eighth graders wanted to continue to remain true to the mission as they continued on with their education.

“They don’t necessarily know all the parts of the story, but just to help them see the empathy of doing for someone else and pushing them toward something that’s bigger than them is really special,” Oberdorf said. “We have a lot of kids who have never even left Michigan or left the Monroe area, and they’re not directly affected by something like this, but to help them see that every little penny, every little thing adds up is just overwhelmingly emotional for me.

“To stand back to see our entire gym being orange and signs everywhere just tips me over with emotion.”

Each of the Monroe Middle School Orange Out events has raised at least $1,000, with the inaugural event raising $2,000. The support for ChadTough comes even though Monroe’s school district is considered low income by many standards, Oberdorf said. But because of the unity that comes out of events like the Orange Out campaign, the cause is easy to support – no matter their school loyalties.

Now that support will carry over to Monroe’s upcoming football game against Saline, where students have helped to raise more than $10,000 at annual Orange Out events since they started in 2015. While Saline’s student section is accustomed to turning the stands blue and gold in support of their hometown Hornets, the game each year when the stadium turns to orange in support of ChadTough continues to carry special meaning.

For Saline seniors Cooper Fairman, Abby Gray, and Jessie Rein, the Orange Out games have been part of their entire high school careers. Fairman lives just up the street from the Carrs, including C.J. Carr, who is a sophomore quarterback on Saline’s varsity team.

The three seniors were in seventh grade at the time of Chad’s passing, when the tragedy engulfed the Saline community. Since then, they have watched as the mission to #DefeatDIPG has continued to grow in the area and has taken hold among students, who shared in the emotional loss of Chad in ways they sometimes cannot explain. That support only grows and is displayed during the Orange Out event each year, which is always held the week before the foundation’s longest running fundraiser, RunTough. This family-friendly event (that offers both virtual and in-person options) is held each year during the week of both Chad’s birthday and the anniversary of his diagnosis.

“We’re blue and gold, and for outsiders to see us wearing orange, they’re probably confused because they don’t know,” Rein said. “But it’s just cool to see a sea of orange in our student section.”

She added: “(The Orange Out) takes the focus somewhat away from the game and who wins and directs it to a greater and better cause that means more.”

The fact that Monroe students – who are normally wearing red and white in support of their Trojans – will join in the Orange Out shows that the mission has taken priority over a typical Friday night rivalry, Fairman said.

“It’s just a kind thing that honors Chad,” he said. “It’s just a good cause all around.”

Gray said that while Chad’s name is tied to the foundation that has raised millions in the fight against DIPG, students realize that it goes beyond one person. The fact that DIPG has a nearly 0% survival rate is a fact that resonates with young people, she said, which only helps to increase the awareness of what the Orange Out is really about, no matter what side of the football field students from Monroe and Saline happened to be seated.

On this night, the students acknowledge, orange – the color Chad Carr loved so much – will ultimately win out in the end as students continue their effort to support a cause in the search for a cure from a deadly disease that affects so many children and their families.

“That’s why we do this, that’s why we raise awareness and raise money,” Rein said. “It’s to try to get that (survival rate) number up.”

Exclusive ChadTough Orange Out performance t-shirts are available for purchase at each of the high schools in advance of the game and also will be available (while supplies last) at the game for $10 each. For those interested, registration for RunTough is available at https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Saline/ChadToughRun. Learn more at www.chadtough.org.

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