After learning that a fellow classmate, sophomore Nicholas Shortridge, was undergoing chemotherapy to battle cancer, some of the students approached Principal Mark Foster with an idea to show their friend they were thinking of him.
He said student leaders within the school wanted to show their support by suggesting they shave their heads so that when Shortridge returned to school, he wouldn’t be the only one without hair.
“The effort actually started this past Friday night at the football game between Central and Unicoi County,” Foster said. “Word was put out by student leaders that this effort was going to take place at the ball game. There was a licensed beautician that was on site with us who did the shaving.”
Students who wanted to shave their heads for the cause were required to present a permission slip, and he said the response was outstanding.
“There were so many we couldn’t do them all during the game,” Foster said. “We arranged (Thursday) during our activity period, (for) students who did not have a chance to do it at the ball game. I don’t have an exact number, but approximately 50 students took part in this. We have to include also (that) one of our assistant principals and one of our teachers, also, shaved their heads as well.”
While it wasn’t required, many of the students also made monetary donations of $5 and up, and the community also responded and donated what they could to help out Shortridge’s family.
“Once word got out, a lot of support from the community poured in,” Foster said. “As of today, the total raised was right around $1,200. Donations are continuing to come in. Anyone in the community can still contribute.”
He said watching the events unfold in support of one of his students has been emotional.
“Just the level of support and the level of care for a lot of their fellow students, it’s very touching,” Foster said. “We even had two young ladies that shaved their heads today. It’s very heartwarming ... to know that students care this much for one another. It’s amazing. I’m very proud to be associated with these young people. Sullivan Central is a great place to be. We care a great deal about (Shortridge) and we wish him the best. We pray for him and wish him a speedy recovery.”
Sitting close by her son at Niswonger Children’s Hospital on Thursday, April Gangewere said it’s been hard to put into words how much she appreciates the school and the community’s support during this difficult time.
“It’s overwhelming,” Gangewere said. “When we first found out about (the head shaving) was when the principal called and he said that a couple of boys had approached him and that they wanted to do something just to try to show Nicholas that they were thinking of him. When you think about teenagers at this age ... their appearance really means a lot to them. For them to shave their heads, just for my son, that was pretty ... overwhelming.”
She said Nicholas has been on a set schedule for chemotherapy treatments and will soon travel to Nashville for surgery. Nicholas will then come back to the area to continue more cancer treatments.
“He’s been pretty overwhelmed,” Gangewere said. “We’ve just been very blessed. We’ve got a lot of really good people in our lives. Money is good, but knowing that people love you and that they’ll stand by you, and stand with you through anything, that’s what matters.”
Foster said donations can be sent to or dropped off at Sullivan Central High School, 131 Shipley Ferry Road, Blountville, TN 37617, in an envelope marked care of the Nicholas Shortridge Fund.