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Two big high school football rivals to come together for a cause

By Gary Liberatore

The Dolgeville/West Canada Valley football game each year is larger than life, but Saturday's game will easily be overshadowed not only by one little girl, but by an entire cause.

A gray ribbon on the back of both teams' helmets Saturday may be small, but it has big meaning.

Gray is the color associated with brain cancer awareness.

The ribbon is for Sophia Johnson, a sixth grader at West Canada Valley, who at the age of 11 is now battling brain cancer for a second time.

The big rivalry game this year is being played at Dolgeville, and the reason for honoring Sophia is Sophia's cousin is Dolgeville starting quarterback Reid Johnson.

Sophia's mother, Julie Johnson, says six years ago Sophia underwent radiation and chemotherapy for about a year, putting the cancer in remission -- until this year.

"In April, we had our five-year post followup appointment," she said. "We were told she was doing great.  We thought she was out of the woods and cured.  And on Aug. 6, when we went for her MRI, bam there it was. And it was back with a vengeance."

Now, four months later, Sophia is in the middle of another round of chemotherapy. But this time, she's taking part in an experimental treatment more than three hours from home at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford.

The numerous trips are not only taking a physical toll, but a financial toll on the Johnsons, and that is why at the game on Saturday, family friends are organizing a fund drive to help their cause: To help pay for travel expenses to and from Connecticut.

Julie says Sophia gets very sick from the treatments and is not in school this school year, but her classmates, schoolmates and community members have done so much to help her and her family, including honoring her at Saturday's homecoming game, which will include not only the gray ribbon decals on the helmets, but a moment of silence.

"It's going to be incredible you know, and it's great they are supporting us," Julie said. "They're going to have a moment of silence and all that I can ask everybody in that moment of silence, is just pray for my daughter."

Julie says the trial has shrunk Sophia's brain tumors, but she knows her daughter is not out of the woods.

"The goal is to shrink everything as much as possible, because there's more than one tumor, and to get it as small as possible, and try to come up with some other treatment plan to try and keep it at bay," she said.

Julie and her husband Roy are both Dolgeville graduates, but now live in the West Canada School District and appreciate all of those people in both districts who may be rivals on the football field, but not off of it.

"I think it's awesome that these kids are coming up with this for our daughter," Julie said.

West Canada Valley Schools Superintendent John Banek says the game on Saturday is big, but the cause is much bigger.

"This game is enormous for both teams.  It's the Army/Navy Game of these two communities, and for it to take a back seat for this cause is pretty impressive," Banek said.  "Obviously there's more to life than a football game, and this is the case tomorrow."

Organizers of Saturday's game -- which is set for 1:30 p.m. at Dolgeville -- are urging everyone who attends the game to wear gray in honor of Sophia and Brain Cancer Awareness.

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