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Community rallies around Liberty Middle student
Liberty middle eighth-grader Sydney Ridings and her mother, Tammy, watch cheerleaders perform during a cancer research fundraiser at the school. - photo by Jennifer Sami

NORTH FORSYTH — Each of the more than 60 people who had their heads shaved or donated inches of hair during a fundraiser Monday at Liberty Middle School on Monday had a reason for doing so.

Jacob Roper was honoring his father, who died when he was just a toddler.

Skylar Loumakis’ motivation was his great-grandmother, whom he lost to cancer.

Nate DeBruyn paid tribute to three people in his life who’ve been diagnosed with the disease.

But the event was inspired by Liberty eighth-grader Sydney Ridings, who is suffering from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that first appeared as a lesion on her spine.

Ridings’ optimistic attitude has been an inspiration for Liberty since her diagnosis in August 2011. As a result, the school’s annual fundraiser benefits childhood cancer research conducted through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Principal Connie Stovall said she anticipated maybe a dozen people would volunteer to have their heads shaved while collecting donations for the foundation. But the shaving event gathered $15,000.

“For that, we celebrate today,” Stovall said to applause. “[Sydney] is such an inspiration to every single one of us at Liberty.”

In addition to the student and staff donations and participation, Forsyth County’s fire department and sheriff’s office also took part. Stovall said all the school resource officers in the county had their heads shaved for the cause.

The support overwhelmed Ridings’ mother Tammy, who grew up in Forsyth County.

“It’s very emotional. It’s just very humbling to see this support from, not only her school, but our community, for such a worthy cause,” she said. “Our community is very loving and having a community that has already lost two children to childhood cancer, I think everybody feels that.”

Sydney Ridings was also touched by the support from her friends and community.

“It’s really exciting and it just feels good to know that people care and they’re wanting to donate for a good cause,” she said.

Ridings, who finished up radiation treatments Monday and is still undergoing chemotherapy, hopes to have the affected vertebrae removed this spring.

In the gymnasium, she was grinning as she watched cheerleaders and the school band energize the crowd. While many of the supporters were friends of Ridings, some had never met her, including sixth-grader Nicholas Rennolds, who had long hair up until the event.

“I didn’t know her, but when I heard that she had cancer, I knew I had to donate and get my hair shaved,” he said. “Anyone that has cancer, that’s not good either way. So even if they’re someone I don’t know, it’s always right to help.”