Gophers shave heads for a good cause

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s just hair.

That was the motto uttered Monday on the University of Minnesota campus, as more than 100 student-athletes and coaches shaved their heads to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer research. The idea for the event came from Gophers walk-on wide receiver Connor Cosgrove, who is currently dealing with leukemia.

As Cosgrove endured his chemotherapy treatments, he saw young girls with cancer who were forced to shave their heads as a result of their disease. This August, a nurse approached Cosgrove with the idea to reach out to the football team to see if any of his teammates would join him in the cause.

He was originally hoping to recruit 20-30 football players. By the end of the day Monday, 110 student-athletes and coaches from multiple sports had their heads shaved to show support.

“I don’t even know half the people who have come through here to shave their heads, and I think that is a testament to the bond that this community has and the bonds that continue to be built through this event,” Cosgrove said.

Among the participants that Cosgrove did know was Mia Tabberson, a senior setter on the Gophers volleyball team. Tabberson was one of two females to shave their heads at Monday’s event, and all eyes were on her as she lost her long, brown hair in a matter of minutes.

“I’m amazed at how many people are here,” said Tabberson, who hadn’t had a “real haircut” since her junior year of high school. “This is just phenomenal. This just shows the Gophers support we have as athletes and a community.”

Tabberson individually raised $10,000 leading up to Monday’s event. As of early Monday evening, around $25,000 had been raised by all those involved. Donations are still being taken online at the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website.

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill chipped in money to have senior linebacker Mike Rallis shave his head. Rallis had not had a haircut in more than four years and was instrumental in helping Cosgrove recruit many members of the football team.

“I give him a hard time. I think he’s got it ratted up so much he’s got to get it cut,” Kill said of Rallis. “We’ve got good kids. I’m not just talking about football kids. You’ve got volleyball players, you’ve got gals. There’s a lot of good people in this state, and there’s a lot of good people at this university and a lot of good people in the sports program. I just think it’s a reflection of young people.”

Not long after Kill joked about Rallis’ hair, he took his turn getting his hair shaved off — or at least what was left of it. The mostly bald Kill had the remainder of his hair cut by Cosgrove, but Minnesota’s second-year coach wouldn’t let the clippers anywhere near his mustache.

“I got what he had left. That’s all that matters,” Cosgrove said of Kill. “I was too scared to do the mustache. The lady was like, ‘Here, go at his mustache.’ He was like, ‘No, no.’ I probably would have taken a gouge out of his lip, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t do that.”

Cosgrove’s roommate, Gophers tight end John Rabe, said the two had initially talked about the head shaving as something they and their roommates would do. But the event became bigger when Cosgrove approached Kill, asking if he could talk to the players about it.

“That’s who Connor is,” Rabe said. “He’s always wanting to help people, always wanting to make people feel good. It’s special to see how he can affect this many people.”

Kill, a cancer survivor himself, was on board with Cosgrove’s idea from the beginning.

“What this youngster’s gone through is much more difficult than anything I’ve been through,” Kill said of Cosgrove. “He’s a young person, and to take on what he has and mentally stay where he’s at . . . he’s helped all of us more than we’ve helped him.”

On Monday, plenty of Gophers student-athletes and staff were helping Cosgrove. Compared to what he and other cancer patients deal with on a daily basis, a buzz cut is a small price to pay to support a good cause.

After all, it’s just hair.

“We’ve got everybody that looks like me right now,” Kill said. “So that’s a good thing.”

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