EGG HARBOR CITY — Julian Connerton quit his football team last week rather than take off the pink gloves he wore to honor his mother.
One week later, everyone else wore pink to honor him.
Saturday was the first game back for Connerton after he briefly quit when the coach told him he couldn’t wear his gloves at a game in Ocean City.
But they were not a mere fashion statement — he wore them to show his support for his mother, Mayra Cruz-Connerton, as she fights breast cancer.
After coach Paul Burgan apologized for the misunderstanding, Connerton came back to the team. And on Saturday, he took the field with the rest of the seventh- and eighth-grade Crusaders youth football team when they played the Somers Point Sharks.
The game began with Burgan and Connerton in the middle of the field, shaking hands. The Crusaders’ side of the field was dotted with pink: both the 50- and 20-yard lines were painted pink, and crews had painted four pink ribbons onto the field. The football team paired bright pink socks with their green-and-black uniforms, as did the cheerleaders.
At the concession stand, they had pink ribbons for sale alongside pink-topped cupcakes, with signs saying the proceeds would go to cancer charities.
“We want the Cruz-Connerton family to know we love them, and we pray for them,” said assistant coach Gary Melton, speaking over the public address system while Burgan and Connerton stood in the middle of the field. “We’re a family, and this is what we do in Egg Harbor City.”
Somers Point scored first, in the game, but was unable to convert the extra point.
Along the sidelines, most Crusaders supporters wore something pink, some even putting pink collars around dogs they brought with them. Several people wore homemade pink jerseys, with Connerton’s uniform number, 61, and “go Julian!” written on them.
Tracee Oliver, Peona DeMello and Cecelia Halvorson each wore different articles of pink clothing, they said, to support Connerton.
“I think it’s very brave to go out and support her,” Halvorson, 42, of Atlantic City, said of Connerton. Halvorson even convinced her husband, Richard, a police officer, to don a pink polo shirt.
Nearby, Sonia and Marisol Cruz, Connerton’s aunts, held up a sign saying they wore pink for Cruz-Connerton.
The two said they help the family any way they can, from running errands to taking Julian to practice or doctors appointments. They were pleased by the pink outpouring, Sonia Cruz said.
The Crusaders quickly rebounded, scoring several touchdowns to end the first half ahead 38-6.
On the other side of the field, Lisa Harris, 40, was one of the couple dozen Somers Point fans who traveled to Egg Harbor City. She wore a pink thermal top beneath a T-shirt. The color wasn’t intentional, she said. “It was the only one that was out at the time.”
But she understood Connerton and thought what he was doing was good. “I think it was a nice gesture to honor her.”
Connerton got into the game in the third quarter, playing center and nose guard and taking part in the scrums of players in the middle of the field.
The game ended 42-6. Coaches told them they did a good job, ignoring the sea of pink all around them for the fundamentals of the game.
As he left with Sonia and Marisol Cruz, Connerton had little to say. The game was “good” and the expressions of support were “perfect,” but most importantly, he was “happy to play.”
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