St. John Neumann School students show love through locks

Bill Brewer Diocese of Knoxville, News, Schools

By Dan McWilliams

With a drum roll from music teacher Jonathan Leichman, 21 girls at St. John Neumann School in Farragut on Jan. 29 continued a four-year tradition of donating their ponytails to benefit cancer patients.

St. John Neumann School second-grader  Maddie Lawson looks longingly at her hair that was cut to benefit cancer patients. Photo by Dan McWilliams

St. John Neumann School second-grader Maddie Lawson looks longingly at her hair that was cut to benefit cancer patients.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

As the student body looked on in the gymnasium, parents and friends began snipping the locks, some of which the girls had worn for a lifetime.

“This is our fourth annual ponytail-cutting event,” said organizer Michelle Dougherty, a St. John Neumann kindergarten teacher. “The ponytails will go to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths campaign. They provide free wigs through the American Cancer Society’s wig banks to any cancer patients. So far Pantene has donated over 500,000 ponytails, making over 24,000 wigs.

“This year we have 21 girls. Over the past four years, we’ve had close to 100 girls donate hair. All grades [donate]—we’ve had teachers, students, mothers, and friends come and participate in this event. This year we have teachers, an alumnus, a parent, and students.”

St. John Neumann Principal Bill Derbyshire called the event “a wonderful experience for our kids to give back a part of themselves to people in need.”

“It’s a big sacrifice for the girls here,” he said. “For a lot of these girls, they’ve had this hair their entire life, and giving it up is a huge sacrifice, and it’s a great example of what we here at St. John Neumann try to work for and instill in all of our kids.”

Also present was Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

Before going in the gym, hair-styling students from Paul Mitchell School in Knoxville prepared the girls’ and women’s hair for cutting. After the cutting, the Paul Mitchell students again styled the donors’ hair.

The girls received a huge cheer from the St. John Neumann student body as they walked into the gym. As they awaited the hair-cutting, the students took a microphone and explained to the assembly why they were donating their ponytails. Reasons given included “the patients need the hair more than I do” and “because it’s really long, and I don’t need it as much as others do.”

Many of the girls donating hair, as well as numerous girls in the assembly, had donated previously.