EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Clump after clump of hair littered the cement floor inside the North High School football team’s “Husky Den” adjoining the locker room Monday evening.
These Huskies were shedding before practice.
More than 20 teenage boys lined up to completely shave their precious hair, quite the commitment considering North hasn’t had its team pictures taken yet. Even a few of the staff partook, among them head coach Joey Paridaen.
Their friend and teammate Riley Haynes, a freshman, means so much more to them than their hair ever will.
Riley, 14, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May. After recently undergoing two chemotherapy treatments at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, his hair had begun to fall out. His parents Chris and Dawn were going to have his head shaved later this week.
Some of the other boys’ moms and Paridaen found out, and they took action. Monday evening before the team lifted weights, four hairdressers volunteered to shave the Huskies’ hair in solidarity with their teammate.
“The level of support, I mean, 14- and 15-year-old kids shaving their heads off? That’s just overwhelming,” Riley’s dad Chris said. “It’s going to help Riley so he doesn’t feel alone in this battle or awkward and singled out as the guy with the shaved head.”
Back in February, the Hayneses noticed Riley had a swollen lymph node – essentially a bulging knot on the side of his neck. They consulted a doctor, who thought it might have only been an infection that hadn’t healed. Riley continued to live as any other boy finishing middle school.
Another one popped up in May.
This time, Riley underwent more testing, including an MRI. He learned he had cancer. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the seventh-most common cancer nationwide and, according to the American Cancer Society, about 66,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Life is different now for Riley.