Students and parents from Lakeside and Piney Grove middle schools crowded the stands at South Forsyth High on Tuesday during their last football game of the season decked out in pink hoodies, socks and shirts that read, ‘Fight Like a Lion.’
Both schools wanted to show their support for Lakeside Middle School cheerleading coach, Julie Stephens, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just before the school year began.
Out on the field, every football player wore pink socks featuring a little pink ribbon, and the cheerleaders on both teams swapped out their usual pompoms to rock the color pink.
Megan Thompson, principal of Lakeside Middle, said that kids from both schools wore pink throughout the school day and at the football game to show their love and support for Stephens throughout her journey will the disease, and it was the third time they had held an all-day pink-out for the coach.
They held the first one the day Stephens had her mastectomy and another on the day she began chemotherapy.
She is currently on her third week of chemotherapy, but came to the last game of the season to see everyone wearing pink and watch the cheerleaders’ routine. She and her husband stood on the sidewalk by the field keeping a distance from others, so she could safely watch the final performance of the season.
“There is no keeping her away,” Thompson said of Stephens.
On top of being one of Lakeside’s cheerleading coaches, Stephens is also chairwoman of the Special Education Department for the school, and she teaches sixth-grade English language arts and seventh-grade literacy.
Many at the school were shocked and saddened to hear of Stephen’s diagnosis. School and community members immediately started to reach out and show their support for her earlier this year, and her team of cheerleaders started to sell pink ‘Fight Like a Lion’ T-shirts for students, parents and staff members.
“When she was diagnosed during pre-planning, her cheerleading mom came up with the ‘Fight Like a Lion’ shirt, and her husband created the Facebook page ‘Fight Like a Lion.’ On that page, the amount of people who have shown her support — its people from all over.”
Thompson said that the game on Tuesday is the first time that the kids have been able to see Stephens this school year. Since her diagnosis and starting chemotherapy three weeks ago, she has not been allowed inside of the school.
“The way she explained it to us was if this was a normal school year, she actually would be at school,” Thompson said. “They would have allowed her to be at school. But because of [COVID-19], she’s not allowed to be. That’s tough on her because she is like a worker bee. It’s not in her nature to just be sitting around.”
Thompson said that the kids and staff all miss her, and she obviously misses them as well. She has been able to FaceTime with the cheerleaders during every football game to go over the routine, and she can’t wait for the day she can step foot inside of the school again.
If all goes according to plan, Stephens plans to be able to return to school and see the students as early as January. Until then, Stephens said she’s happy she was able to see the team during their last game this week.