Dodgeball for a cause: Jenny Horton and WRMS raise money for Relay

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 27, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
For the past nine years, guidance counselor Jenny Horton has headed up Relay for Life fundraising efforts at West Rowan Middle School.
The amount she’s raised in the past eight years, with the support of students and faculty, is rather startling: $107,311.98.
Six figures?
Few people are more motivated than Jenny to raise money for Relay. Her connection to cancer is an intensely personal one.
Jenny’s mother died of breast cancer in 1980, when Jenny was only 15 years old. Her father succumbed three years later to bladder cancer when she was a freshman in college.
This year, Jenny is the same age as her mother was when she died, and Jenny’s daughter Susannah is about the same age as Jenny was when her mother died.
“When it was discovered, she was pretty far along,” Jenny says. After treatment, she was declared free and clear, but the cancer had in fact metastisized, and she didn’t survive for long.
“Watching my parents both truly suffer from the effects of cancer affected my life more than anything else,” Jenny says. She was lucky, she says, to have a close aunt and uncle and parents of friends who cared about her. A strong faith and a lot of support at her college, Pfeiffer, helped.
“The early loss of both of my parents defined me as a person, a mother and helped me choose my career as a school counselor,” Jenny says.
“I will never really heal from it. Relay is a way I can honor my parents and help find a cure for a disease that attempted to ruin my life.”
As if she needed any more reasons to be involved with Relay for Life, the parents of Jenny’s husband, Jon, are cancer survivors.
For the past four years, Jenny, who has been at West Rowan Middle for 18 years, has organized a dodgeball tournament at the school to raise money for Relay.
She got the idea from Erwin Middle School.
“Our kids love it,” she says. “Even kids who aren’t athletes can do it.”
This year was the biggest yet.
Jenny says that she set a 20-team maximum, with eight members per team, and 20 teams signed up.
Each team member pays $10 to participate. Half of that goes to T-shirts — each team member decorates his or her own, and students get quite creative. (The team “Udders for a Cause” won the award for creativity this year, with their Holstein-cow spotted T-shirts.)
The other half — $800 this year — goes to Relay for Life.
Admission to the after-school event is $5, and this year they took in about $1,000, Jenny says.
Jenny’s daughter Susannah, an eighth grader, has loved her dodgeball experiences.
From the time she was in fifth grade, she says, she knew she wanted to make a team every year, and she has.
“It’s always been fun,” she says.
Raising money for Relay “means a lot to me,” she adds.
“I never met my (maternal) grandparents because of cancer.”
Jenny has two other children, Brantley, 21, who is at the Naval Academy, and Mary Allison, 19, who will be attending Catawba College in the fall, They’ve both been active in helping with Relay for Life, Jenny says.
Other students, like eighth grader Meghan Maxey, love the tournament as well.
“It was really fun, and I wish I’d be here next year.”
Actually, Maxey will be able to return as a high school freshman because she was on the winning team, the Intimidators, and the winning team gets to return to play the following year. This year’s runner-up team was The Flying Purple Cancer Defeaters. Winner of the Most Spirited team was the Average Joes.
Each spring, Jenny takes a group of about 40 students to Relay for Life.
“Every year, I say they have to raise $100 (individually) to be able to spend the night,” she says.
“I’m a brave woman,” she added, laughing.
Her goal the very first year of fundraising was $5,000. She brought in double that. Every year since, her goal has been to raise at least $10,000 at West Rowan Middle School. She’s always exceeded that goal.
“I’m just proud of these kids over the years,” she says. “I’ve had really good Relay members.”
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This year’s local Relay For Life will be held May 4-5 at the Rowan County Fairgrounds. The event starts at 7 p.m. Friday.
If you have questions about Rowan County’s Relay for Life event, call LeeAnn Freeze at 704-239-5220 or email