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Newport Harbor High School juniors team up to raise funds for cancer research

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Team Hero is a group of Newport Harbor High School juniors who are participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Students of the Year campaign. From left are Luke Hatfield, Peyton Peterson, Braham Duncan, Rachel Spataro and Jack Rettig.
(Courtesy of Kristen Hatfield)

When Luke Hatfield got a text from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society asking him to lead a team in the organization’s annual Students of the Year campaign, he didn’t hesitate.

The answer was yes.

Luke — grandson of late singer Bobby Hatfield of Righteous Brothers fame — was inspired by his father, Bobby Hatfield Jr., who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000 and beat it a year later, and his mother, Kristen, who worked with charities like the John Wayne Cancer Foundation to raise research funds and awareness for the disease. Luke eventually participated in other charities as he grew up.

The Students of the Year campaign was no stranger to him, he said. He participated last year as a team member and said he fell in love with the work — organizing events, calling on community members for donations — and was excited for the opportunity to be a team leader.

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It helped that he already knew who his team of “heroes” would be: fellow Newport Harbor High School juniors and longtime friends Rachel Spataro, Peyton Peterson, Jack Rettig and Braham Duncan.

“I was out of the loop and he was able to make that decision on his own,” Kristen Hatfield said. “It made me proud that he wanted to do this on his own and that [the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society] picked him. He thought about who he wanted on his team and how they would work together. I remember asking and he said ‘They’re all in.’ ”

The seven-week campaign is a competition in which high school students “foster professional skills such as entrepreneurship, marketing and project management” to raise funds for the nonprofit, which focuses on research for blood cancer.

The organization estimates that 381,774 and 845,076 people are living with or in remission from leukemia and lymphoma, respectively.

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Campaign participants are not given formal guidelines, but the competition challenges students to be creative in their work.

The fundraising campaign will end Sunday and all teams competing for the Orange County chapter will attend a gala where the title of Students of the Year will go to the team that raised the most money.

Team Hero — a name Luke said was “catchier” than his team last year, Help is in Our Blood — held a softball event in early March and “drag queen bingo” Wednesday night. It also will partner with Costa Mesa indoor cycling studio GritCycle for a “karma” ride at $50 a seat on Sunday. The event is sold out, according to Rachel and Peyton.

The team also sold doughnuts for $2 and team shirts for $10.

“I’ve always found it to be really fun instead of seeing it like working,” Luke said. “I didn’t think of [the campaign] as something I should do. I just wanted to do it. I’m doing it not only for my dad but just for myself. … It’s a lot of fun to me.”

He said he “probably sent out 80 letters and 100 emails” to community members.

“I think a lot of people are sadly connected by cancer and I think that makes people want to help and jump in,” Peyton said.

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The team also asks for donations through Instagram, where it posts photos and a short description of loved ones who have had cancer.

“Social media is a big part of our society and using that to our advantage in better ways than we’ve seen in the news is important,” Rachel said. “People don’t see the good we’ve done. Turning that negative connotation associated with social media into something good is something I’ve realized is important in this project and that I’ve built upon.

“Especially in times after our school had an unfortunate anti-Semitic incident” in which social media photos showed Nazi imagery at an off-campus party involving local high school students, “I think it’s really important to find the space to make our society better.”

The students joined for a variety of reasons.

Jack said he was always a “big fundraising guy” and is in the National League of Young Men with Luke. The nonprofit is geared toward the “development of young men into community leaders.”

Rachel said she was inspired by other students at Newport Harbor, especially by those who work with the American Red Cross. She said she remembers the day after the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017 that left 59 people dead. She saw “hundreds lined out the door to give back to people.”

Peyton and Braham joined on a more personal note. Peyton recently lost two family friends to cancer and Braham lost two aunts to breast cancer and lymphoma and more recently lost his grandfather, whom he called his “role model,” to prostate cancer.

“I just thought if I could prevent one kid from getting leukemia or lymphoma or prevent them from dying from it, it’d mean all the world to me,” Braham said. “I can’t imagine losing my own kid at 7 or 8 to cancer, because that sounds like the epitome of the worst thing on Earth.”

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Rachel, Peyton, Braham and Jack said they’d be happy to participate in the campaign again next year, though they’re unsure they will be able to fit it in given that they, like Luke, will be seniors. But they said they feel they could raise more money knowing what they know now.

“People are better than you think they are,” Braham said. “Nowadays it’s pretty easy to perceive humans badly because it’s always bad stuff in the news. But what it comes down to is that the common person is willing to donate and do good work and support you. All you have to do is ask.”


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