For members of the Middle School of Pleasantville's boys and girls cross country teams, their last meet would go beyond the typical 1.5-mile run.

That day, the team traded in their traditional maroon uniforms and opted to "think pink," just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"I think that all people with breast cancer should get better. Breast Cancer Awareness. Think Pink," was written across the shirt of runner Denise Alston.

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The small team of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders ran their seventh and final meet against Buena Regional Middle School - in decorated hot pink shirts - to honor those who have died or are fighting the disease, said the girls coach, Irvin Marable, of Somers Point.

The runners personalized their own shirts to run in that day, said boys coach Valerie Winfield, of Mays Landing.

"We decided to do it this year to show people that we aren't just running for fun, but we run for life. We have a purpose and a cause," said Marable, who was dressed in a gray striped suit and an oversized pink tie that day.

Marable, a cancer survivor, urged his team to learn about the disease that affects thousands each year. In agreement with Principal Briggitte White, the runners were required to write up short awareness pieces, which were displayed at the Oct. 24 meet. Their reports focused on how the disease affects both men and women, and various statistics.

"Many girls around the country and world take for granted their life," the first-year coach said of the undefeated team. "If they are aware, that helps."

Two members of the boys team also did research on the disease, which they learned was not limited to women.

"Now, men start to get it, even though it's rare. I didn't know that before," admitted eighth-grader Jorge Yarleque, who finished fifth out of 17 runners.

Both the girls and boys ended their season with a win.

Seventh-grader Eli Jenkins darted through the finish line first, proudly in pink, with a time of 9:29, with Benjamin Clark, sixth grade, following in second. Eighth-grader and team captain, Rebekah Clark, and Kerlanda Dervil, seventh grade, led the girls team to their victory.

"Even though (those with the disease) can't run, I can make them proud," Clark said as she adjusted her pink heart-printed socks after her first-place run.

Parents were present to support their children, some also dressed in pink.

Sharon Hunt, mother of sixth-grade runner Thomas Hunt, reflected on how breast cancer can affect everybody.

"Our family has had scares with breast cancer. … I was very impressed that (coach Marable) asked them to do this," she said.

Winfield, who doubles as the school's physical education teacher, admitted that this was all Marable's work. However, she recognized the importance of the month.

"We have to get people to know what it's all about … to get our school aware."

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