September 2013 — An 11-year-old girl nervously skims through her speech on her iPad before addressing a full crowd of students at Arrowhead High School in one of the first ever “Gold in September” games. She might have been too anxious at that moment to take it all in, but she was setting the foundation for the start of an incredible movement — one motivated by the desire to honor her brother’s legacy.
Annie Bartosz is a junior forward on the Penn field hockey team with an incredible story. When Annie was four years old, her twin brother Jack was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer. After battling for seven years, Jack unfortunately passed away before their 11th birthday. The day Annie’s parents told her that her other half wasn’t going to make it, she fought through tears and asked them why it was only the families experiencing heartbreak and directly affected by childhood cancer that were the ones that had to carry the burden of raising awareness and funds for innovative treatments.
“I wanted to make childhood cancer as well known as pink in October for breast cancer, so I asked my parents what the color and month was for childhood cancer, and they told me gold and September,” Bartosz said.
From there, the idea took off. The Gold in September program started with fundraisers and gold awareness games at local schools in Bartosz’s hometown of Hartland, Wis. Eventually, teams all across Wisconsin and the rest of the country were hosting Gold in September games, honoring Jack’s legacy and raising awareness for childhood cancer.
In the process, Bartosz fell in love with the sport of field hockey. At age 11, she told her mom, Sarah, that she wanted to play for an Ivy League team one day. In order to help her accomplish this dream, Bartosz's mom enrolled her in Windy City Field Hockey Club in Northern Chicago — where Annie would drive two hours there and back about three times a week to practice at Northwestern University.
Of course, it is no coincidence that this year’s Gold in September game will be played against the Northwestern Wildcats. The Northwestern squad is well aware of the significance of this game. Three of Bartosz’s former teammates — Chloe Relford, Greta Hinke, and Abby Renaud — will be playing for the Wildcats this Friday.
“Sports have always been an outlet for me. Being a part of a team has always been special,” Bartosz said. “Something really gratifying about being involved in sports is having a community of teammates always lifting you up and wanting to help you accomplish whatever dream you may want to.
“I think the support from the girls from my current and former teammates in pushing the word out, sharing on social media, and getting their communities involved in the cause has been crucial to growing Gold.”
Today, Gold in September is the awareness program of a larger foundation called Beat Childhood Cancer. The 11-year-old girl who read her script from her iPad to the Arrowhead High School crowd so many years ago has come a long way. One of her favorite memories of Gold in September games is of her senior year at Arrowhead, where she once again gave a speech to the home crowd about childhood cancer awareness — with a little more confidence that time around.
“I remember looking up and realizing that every single person in the stadium was painted gold,” Bartosz said. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude and knew that I was doing the best thing to honor Jack’s legacy, while continuing to pioneer my own. If Jack was here, I think he would say he’s proud of me for living out my dream [of playing at an Ivy League school], and for not letting my circumstances define who I am or what to do with my life.
“Even though he hasn’t been here physically on Earth to see me living out my dream, I know he’s been following me the whole way.”
This Friday, when Penn (0-4) looks to do the improbable, and defeat No. 1 Northwestern (6-0), the defending national champions, there will be a sea of gold in the crowd. Of course, a win would be monumental and a huge morale boost for the Penn team that suffered two overtime losses last weekend and is desperate to earn its first win of the season before going into Ivy League conference play later this month.
But when the Quakers and Wildcats take the field on Friday at 3 p.m., it’s going to be about more than just a game.
For more information on Gold in September and how to help the cause, visit goldinseptember.com.