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Playing for a cause

For the last 10 weeks, Aubrey High School teacher Annelise Harris has been preparing for more than just the first day of class. Hanging high above piles of textbooks and school supplies in the biology teacher’s classroom, a small pink banner reading “Team Blonde” flutters proudly against the whiteboard. This Saturday,

Harris and her “Blonde” teammates will take on Team Brunette (also known as the Bru Crew) in a highly anticipated, incredibly competitive game of powderpuff football held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The charitable event is hosted by BvB Dallas, a young philanthropist group founded by sisters whose father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over a decade ago. The annual fundraiser debuted in 2008 and is dedicated to raising awareness, money and support to help eradicate Alzheimer’s disease.

“A lot of people feel like this is just something that old people get, but it’s not,” Harris said. “This isn’t your grandparent’s disease – this is everybody’s disease.”

In the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds – a fact that means that between the time the BvB’s football game starts and ends, one hundred people will be diagnosed. It’s the country’s sixth-leading cause of death, killing more Americans than breast and prostate cancer combined. It’s also the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that can’t be prevented, cured or even slowed.

“We don’t have a cure right now, which sucks,” Harris said. “But there are still things we can do. It starts with funding the people doing the research, the people providing outreach to patients and to caregivers. We can provide that help.”

Harris decided to join BvB Dallas three years ago, after her best friend’s mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 56. Harris said she knew she had to do her best to stay positive for her friend and their family, and joined BvB Dallas to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s.

She was welcomed into what she described as an “incredibly inclusive family”, and despite being brunette, she quickly became a very active, incredibly competitive member of Team Blonde. Harris says she looks forward to BvB Dallas the same way a kid looks forward to summer camp – meeting up with old friends, playing games together and hosting friendly competitions makes the fundraising extra exciting.

Last fall, after Harris had been a part of the BvB for two years, she found out that her 90-year-old-grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Harris was able to reach out to the BvB community and find the right kind of local care for her grandmother. She also noticed tell-tale signs of the disease that others might have easily dismissed.

“She wasn’t noticing things; she was forgetting things,” Harris said. “And some of the things she did made me think that we needed to get her checked out. My dad and uncles were apprehensive. They thought it was just typical signs of aging, but you have to look at it from her perspective. From [a person with Alzheimer’s] mindset – they don’t know what’s going on. It can be confusing and frustrating. You want to have things in place to help them out.”

Since its debut in 2008, BvB Dallas has raised over $4 million to aid in the search for a cure. This year, their goal is $700,000, and the money will be used to benefit UT Southwestern, Center for Brain Health, The Senior Source, & the South Dallas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Team Blonde and the Bru Crew are already deep in competition. Even though the football game is the undisputed big event, fundraising has been going on for weeks, and the rivalry between the two groups is fierce. Each team consists of over 200 members, all fighting for the same thing: the coveted BvB Cup. Whichever team raises the most money in donations wins the cup and the glory—and for the past two years, Team Blonde has taken home gold. This year, Harris says the pressure is on to defend the title and remain reigning champs.

Despite being there for a common goal, Harris says that on game day, the teams are not friends – and sometimes the fans get just as intense as the players.

“You can expect a lot of yelling and a lot of fun,” she said.

The showdown will happen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. Donations can be made online or at the door, and a $25 donation gets you a ticket to the big game. Following the event, adults 21 and over are encouraged to join Team Blonde and the Bru Crew at the after party, where there will be music, drinks and glitter bombs.

“I don’t even know if I can put into words how amazing this experience is,” Harris said, “but our ultimate goal is to get to a point where we don’t need to be here anymore. We want there to be a cure so that we don’t have to do this.”

Although BvB has over 35 events across the country, BvB Dallas is the largest, both in terms of number of participants and dollars raised to support research and awareness — and many of the participants have been personally affected by Alzheimer’s, just like Annelise Harris.

“I want people to know that life doesn’t end at diagnosis,” she said. “There are things you can still do. You have to focus on those things – and you have to celebrate those things.”

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