Liberty goes pink for breast cancer awareness

Photo courtesy of Kelly Fedel

Liberty football player Riley McCullough displays a photo of his mother, Heather, who died in August after a long battle with breast cancer, during a recent pregame ceremony. The Lions culminated its breast cancer awareness fundraiser by wearing pink and honoring those battling the disease and others who have lost the fight.

Brentwood’s Liberty High School football team’s victory over Antioch was a triumph on the field, a touchdown in the fight against breast cancer and a sobering reminder of the disease’s impact.

The squad, which recently raised around $500 through T-shirt sales for a metastatic breast cancer awareness, research and support organization, used the contest as a physical representation of the team’s internal strife with the condition, and their efforts to combat it.

Liberty coaches and many spectators were clad in pink, breast cancer awareness shirts, and players’ helmets and other pieces of game equipment featured pink elements, representing a unified pink stance against the disease.

“It’s meaningful because we can tie it to players, families, coaches and everybody,” said Kelly Fedel, who has organized the event for the past three years. “Everybody knows someone — or maybe themselves — who have been touched by cancer.”

Before the gridiron action, the two East County squads and crowd paused for a moment of silence to honor those battling the disease and others who have lost the fight.

Among the less fortunate: Heather McCullough, mother of Liberty player Riley McCullough, and Lisa Diane Cardoso-Slagle, mom to Liberty defensive coordinator Brian Reel. Heather and Cardoso-Slagle both battled the disease for eight years before losing the fight.

“It meant a lot to me and my family,” said Riley McCullough, who, flanked by members of his family, walked the field carrying his mother’s photo during a pregame ceremony. “These guys are good teammates and good friends off the field. I think my mom would be really proud.”

Fedel, creator of the annual football team event and mother to Lions star Payton Zdroik, kicked off the event three years ago after organizing similar events with her daughter, a former Liberty volleyball player. By coincidence, her idea occurred shortly after Reel lost his mother to the disease, which made the cause all the more meaningful, she said.

After obtaining permission from Liberty head coach Ryan Partridge, and learning from Reel that few research dollars go toward metastatic breast cancer — cancer that has spread — the idea was off and running.

Sales of cupcakes and hair bows — staples of Fedel’s former fundraising efforts with her daughter’s volleyball team — were replaced with T-shirts, which are wildly popular.

The annual effort has generated an estimated $1,500 over three years for METAvivor, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of advanced breast cancer and equity in research and patient support. Half of each year’s proceeds — another estimated $1,500 over three years — goes toward the football team. Between 200 and 250 T-shirts have been sold each season.

“People are eager to raise money not only for the team, which is awesome, but they also like doing additional community service, additional outreach,” said Fedel, who noted that Liberty’s leadership, cheer, dance team and band all joined in the effort.

Fedel’s son, Zdroik, is a senior this season, but it’s likely the event will continue for years to come, she said.

“We want to increase awareness,” she said. “Hopefully, this will continue to snowball, because there are a lot of people who want to do good for their community. I think it’s important that we teach our boys, our high schoolers, how to give back, and give them a conduit to do it in this world.”

For more information about METAvivor, or to donate to the organization, visit