Growing mustaches, growing awareness

SJU hockey team hopes to get people talking about men’s health issues during ‘Movember’

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November 26, 2012

By Mike Killeen

Things are getting a little hairy for the Saint John's University hockey team these days.

Don't worry, it has nothing to do with the Johnnies' performance on the ice. Many SJU players and coaches are growing mustaches and beards during November to raise awareness and funds for men's health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer.

During "Movember," men around the world sprout mustaches during the 30 days of the month. These men, known as Mo Bros, effectively become talking billboards, prompting conversation about the often-ignored issue of men's health.

For the Johnnies, the issue has hit close to home.

Assistant coach Pat Forte is battling thymic carcinold. Senior forward Jascha Pettit lost his father, Jeff, to pancreatic cancer in February, and former junior varsity player Ryan Heaton lost his father, Kevin, to renal cell carcinoma in May.

"People notice (the facial hair) at the games, and everyone is asking, 'What are you doing with the mustaches?' " said Pettit, who led the MIAC with 14 goals last season and has five points in six games this season. "The guys (on the team) just kind of picked up on it, and thought it was something to try and get people aware of."

"I see other students asking the players why they are growing mustaches," said Heaton, a sophomore from Clearwater, Minn. "Once the players tell them why they are doing it, they generally react with a positive response, almost in awe. Then, that person might go and tell other students about what the hockey team is doing, and it creates widespread effect."

For someone like Forte, the gesture is greatly appreciated.

"When you're fighting a disease like this, it's definitely a team thing. Everyone has to be involved, whether it's the people that support you or pray for you," Forte said.  "I think being involved helps everyone, when they feel like they're helping the cause. It makes them feel good about themselves, and ultimately that's important."

SJU head coach Doug Schueller said individual players had participated in Movember activities in the past, but never the entire team. Last season, he noticed that the University of Wisconsin-Stout hockey team had grown mustaches as a fund-raising effort with the school's basketball team, and considered doing it with the Johnnies this season.

"Having gone through all the stuff with the Pettits and the Heatons and Coach Forte, it just makes sense to try and build awareness," said Schueller, who is growing a stylin' Fu Manchu mustache.

"It was a heartwarming surprise when Doug Schueller told me that they were participating in Movember as a team with their main motivation being in memory of my father as well as in memory of Jascha Pettit's father," Heaton said. "I am not surprised that they are doing this to raise awareness about men's health issues, because I know the coaching staff and players care a lot about this topic and I'm sure the team has been looking for ways to help out in any way they can."

Pettit, who has a full beard, says the facial hair brings "laughter" to people, and "lightens the mood talking about things" like men's health.

"You think about people that you remember who may have passed," said Pettit, from Wadena, Minn. "You're doing something in memory of them, and the awareness of the struggles they went through."

"All these guys on our team are going to be affected by this eventually," Forte said. "They're going to lose a loved one, or get it themselves. That's just the reality of it. I just think it's great what they're doing."

Schueller said the team has raised over $1,000 as of Nov. 26, with proceeds going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation . He isn't sure how many of his players will keep their facial hair.

"Part of the Movember thing is that they have shave parties at the end of the month, so they all get together and they shave their mustaches together," Schueller said. "We may do something like that - a little celebration at the end of Movember.

"You never know - one of these guys might think they look good with a mustache, and might keep it for the rest of their lives," Schueller added, smiling.

You can support the Johnnies in their efforts by donating at the Movember and Sons website.