MLS has established two traditions for September — one is a celebration of soccer scarves called "Scarftember," and the other is a more serious, charitable effort under the “Kick Childhood Cancer” banner to help children who are battling that formidable disease.
Tonight, when the Seattle Sounders host the Vancouver Whitecaps (10:30 pm ET, TSN in CAN, MLS LIVE in US), both teams will honor Kick Childhood Cancer, with a portion of match proceedings going to the project. And in the stands, another, fan-led initiative will fight the disease, too.
Longtime Seattle Sounders FC fan Christine O’Connell has created her own twist on intertwining the two. Through her Scarves Fighting Cancer campaign, she’s working to raise money for the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer at Seattle Children’s Hospital —and she’s enlisted members of her beloved team to be part of her efforts.
O’Connell’s fandom dates back to when her company shared office space with the USL edition of the Sounders. In fact, now-retired defender Zach Scott worked part-time in their accounting department while he was a young player with the team. That association led O’Connell to later create the Zach Scott Fan Club to celebrate the now-legendary Sounder, and she designed her first few scarves in his honor.
This included scarves sold at his fundraising testimonial match. The Scott family wanted proceeds of scarf sales to go to the Ben Towne Center, as the then-10-year-old daughter of their close friends was battling a rare, aggressive brain cancer.
Shortly after that match, O’Connell’s own daughter Jane, now age four, was diagnosed with Stage IV Wilms tumor.
“Through meeting Zach, and then meeting their family friend,” she recalls, “that prepared me so much for the road that laid ahead for us.”
O’Connell says although Jane responded well to chemo and radiation treatment, which she’s been chronicling on her Our Sweet Jane blog, she’s also been wary of what the future holds. “The cancer fight never really ends,” she notes, bracing with the knowledge that one in four patients in Jane’s position relapse within five years of treatment.
Yet she’s also hopeful about the immunotherapy research that the Ben Towne Center is doing, particularly in that it provides an alternative to what she calls the “brutality” of current chemo and radiation regimens.
The Scarves Fighting Cancer campaign came out of a desire to fund research to keep other families from going through what the O’Connells have gone through. It also came through encouragement she found in winning the scarf-design contest for scarves that went out to 2016 Sounders ticket-holders.
Her creations so far, designed while she stayed in the hospital with Jane, include one emblazoned with “Brian Schmetzer’s Rave Green Army” (from an Emerald City Supporters’ chant celebrating the Sounders coach). Another reads "Roldan is Hungry” -- with pizza slices on each end -- to poke gentle fun at midfielder Cristian Roldan’s seemingly insatiable appetite.
She also wanted to create a scarf for goalkeeper Stefan Frei, but upon realizing he’s an artist, she instead sent a letter requesting he design a scarf, and he accepted.
“The fact that Stefan Frei would take the time to do a design for my little project, and the letter he sent with it was just so touching, just shows that he has a heart of gold,” she says. “He’s great at his day job, obviously, but I would imagine down the road we’ll see some other artistic work from him.”
And the Sounders’ contributions have included more than just art. At a blood drive this past weekend in Jane’s honor, Sounders veteran Brad Evans was one of the nearly 200 people who came out to donate blood.
The trio of scarves are available on the Scarves Fighting Cancer site; O’Connell reports she’s more than 3/4 of the way to getting to her $10,000 fundraising goal.
If you've still got scarf fever, check out MLS's Kick Childhood Cancer and the social campaign Scarftember. Artist Maria Lauren Lambilis has created a Kick Childhood Cancer benefit T-shirt and a scarf for every MLS team, with proceeds from their sales to benefit the Children's Oncology Group, one of the leading childhood cancer experts in the world and a partner of MLS WORKS.
In addition, you can also support Kick Childhood Cancer by posting a photo of yourself with your favorite MLS scarf to Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #ScarvesUp and tagging @MLS. The league will donate for each post.