$23,000 raised for St. Baldrick’s

— Corey Sabia photos
There are not many people who willingly go bald, but Thursday night about 50 young and adult men and one young woman wore T-shirts that proclaimed Go Bald or Go Home as they waited to get their heads shaved at Wilton High School.

It was the school’s annual St. Baldrick’s event, a fund-raiser for the organization that proclaims it is “shaving the way to conquer kids’ cancer.” As of March 16, more than $23,000 had been raised so far online. Donations may still be submitted to stbaldricks.org — search Wilton High School.

Students at Wilton High School began raising money for St. Baldrick’s in 2009, when 28 heads were shaved, bringing in $17,458. To date, including Thursday, a total of $184,361 has been raised with 528 heads shaved.

It seems to be contagious, with several participants receiving pins for having their heads shaved three or four times.

Two such students are Johnny Maggio, a junior, and Ian Filaski, a senior, members of the event’s leadership team. They had been working towards Thursday evening for four months or so.

“I’ve been doing it four years,” Ian said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s like a school tradition.”

“It’s an honorable cause,” said Johnny, who was waiting for this third shave. “It’s a good opportunity to get involved.”

Both said the only bad part is feeling cold when they go outside.

“You’re easy to pick out of a crowd,” Johnny said with a laugh. “But it’s nice to be identified that way.”

Returning to support the students was Tim Becker, a member of the Wilton Class of 2011, who is now working as a strategy consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. He led the event in 2010 and 2011 and took his place in line with the other “shavees.”

“It’s just a remarkable thing to come back here and see how this has grown into such a wonderful event,” he told the students.

“When you shave your head you send a simple and powerful message” of support to children who lose their hair due to chemotherapy, he said.

He encouraged them to be proud of their “scalps.” “Everyone knows, everyone sees, and everyone is thankful.”

A special guest of the evening was Tim Kenny, co-founder of St. Baldrick’s and a Wilton resident for the last two years.

The enterprise started as a joke, he said, as he and two friends relaxed in his backyard in July 1999 after a round of golf.

“I said, ‘life is good. Let’s give something back,’” he said Thursday. He noted one of his friends “had a mop of blond hair and one had a mop of red hair and I was bald.”

They planned an event for the next St. Patrick’s Day at one of their favorite watering holes, Jim Brady’s in Manhattan. They lined up 17 fellows to get their heads shaved, figuring they’d raise $17,000. Instead, they raised more than $100,000.

Since then, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation — which is not named for a real saint — has raised more than $300 million and there are more than 1,000 head-shaving events each year in every state and 28 countries.

After expenses all the money — which is 71 cents for each dollar — is given as grants for children’s cancer research. The foundation funds cooperative research through the Children’s Oncology Group, which has 232 affiliated hospitals. It has become the largest funder of children’s cancer research after the U.S. government.

“It has spread wildly beyond our dreams,” Kenny said.

It has spread because of people like the students losing their hair Thursday evening.

Michael Hueglin, captain of the Wilton High ski team, said his team has a tradition of taking part in the event.

“It’s an opportunity to donate to an important cause,” he said. A junior, he was waiting for his third go-round. How does it feel to be bald? “It’s a unique experience. It’s interesting and a lot of fun.”

Speaking before the shaving began, Chris Colbert said he was doing it as an “act of unbargaining service,” meaning he was expecting nothing in return. It was his first time and he was “really excited. It’s an opportunity to represent the school for a good cause.” Although he also admitted he was “very nervous right now.”

“People ask why you did it,” said Owen McKessy, a junior. “It’s an excuse to tell them about a good cause. To get the word out.” One of the lead organizers, he participated last year, too.

Along with the leadership team — Ian Filaski, John Gioffre, Johnny Maggio, Owen McKessy, Samuel Muirhead, Sean Purvis, Kyle Shifrin, and Zachary Verrilli — the event is organized each year by teacher Dan Pompa.

Barbers for Thursday night included Gaetano and Gina Monteleone of Arena Hairstyling of Wilton, Gerald Ventrella and Sherry L. Grieco of Branchville Hair Design, and Kreshnik Komoni and Dawn Pazar of Agron’s Barbershop of Wilton.

Refreshments were provided by Planet Pizza of Norwalk, The Village Market, Wilton Pizza, and Pinocchio Pizza.

Entertainment was provided by Connor Adams, Cameron Berg, Adam Harley, Maxton Santos, and Kyle Saxon. Karen Boehme provided medical support.

The evening’s program also thanked the high school custodial staff and Dana an Michael Mccreesh.