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Nearly double

Liberty High’s second Dance for a Difference raises $43k for the sickest kids
The Liberty High award-winning Dance Team performs during the second annual Dance For A Difference Sunday, March 3, in the Liberty High School gym. The student-organized event raised $43,265.22 for children battling cancer and other illnesses. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

NORTH LIBERTY– Nearly double last year’s total.
Liberty High’s second annual Dance for a Difference managed to accomplish it in just a few hours Sunday, March 3.
The school’s “Difference Makers,” a student-run organization, started the Liberty High tradition last year in an effort to raise money to help the sickest kids: those battling cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.
Jen Secrist, a Liberty High teacher and faculty advisor to the Difference Makers, was a teacher at Iowa City West High in 2011 when one of her students, Caroline Found, was killed in a moped accident just a few days before the start of the school year. Found’s impact on the West High community and her fellow volleyball players was chronicled in the book “The Miracle Season,” written by former coach Kathy Bresnahan, which was turned into a movie of the same title starring Helen Hunt and William Hurt. The motto “Live Like Line” became a rallying cry for the team and the school.
“We had started the West High Dance Marathon (benefiting the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital) in 2012, because the kids wanted to keep her spirit alive. She was such an energetic and giving back kind of kid,” Secreist said. “It was just such a huge success where kids could come together and rise up, and do something that they never imagined they could in something that was bigger than themselves.”
When Liberty High opened its doors in 2017, Secrist transferred to the new school, and brought the idea of students rising up to help others with her. “We wanted to keep this alive, we wanted to keep it going because we knew that life-threatening illness, cancer, it’s not stopping, so we weren’t going to stop just because we were in a new school,” Secrist said.
The first Dance For a Difference, held in 2018, raised $26,755.22.
“We’re keeping it alive, growing it each year a little bit at a time just like this school is growing. We’re hoping to establish, as Liberty High School, that we are difference-makers,” she said. “That’s our motto here. We bring that, we rise up for kids who can’t.”
This year’s event raised $43,265.22.
Claire Enyart, a Liberty High junior, explained the funds would be split three ways with 50 percent going to the University of Iowa’s (UI) Stead Family Children’s Hospital, 25 percent to the Fight With Flash Foundation (in memory of Austin “Flash” Schroeder, a West High student who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 14. Sadly, he lost his battle a year later), and 25 percent to the Ronald McDonald House, which serves 3,000 families coping with life-threatening illnesses annually in three locations.
In addition to dancing, food and a silent auction, the 180 dancers also spent some time hearing from area families impacted by childhood cancer, and benefiting from the dollars raised. Among them was the McCaffery family, including UI Men’s Basketball Coach Fran McCaffery, his sons Connor and Patrick, and daughter Marit, a Liberty High student.
Patrick is West High’s all-time scoring leader in varsity basketball, and a cancer survivor. Patrick told his story for the first time publicly to kick-off the event.
His troubles began his seventh-grade year when a narrowed trachea (windpipe) was discovered. An ultrasound revealed a tumor, which led to the removal of half of his thyroid.
“They didn’t know at the time if it was cancerous yet,” he said. A few days later, the family received the ominous news, it was cancerous. The remainder of his thyroid was removed, a grueling treatment regimen began including a low-iodine diet, “which was terrible,” Patrick said laughing. A follow-up scan required him to drink a radioactive substance.
“I had to sit in my basement for like a week, I couldn’t leave, nobody could be within 6 feet of me for the first three days,” he added.
Patrick has since beaten cancer, but the ordeal remains fresh in his mind. He wears a tattoo on his arm as an ever-present reminder of the mindset he’s lived by since: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
Stuart Scott, a long-time broadcaster on ESPN, first spoke those words in 2014 when accepting the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, awarded to “a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination,” during the network’s Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly (ESPY) awards. Scott lost his battle in 2015.
After praising the Bolts for stepping up to make a difference in the lives of kids like him, and their families, Patrick reminded them, “Any day this could all end, like your whole life.”