WEST ORANGE, NJ — Liberty Middle School was the scene of some very special events Feb. 16 as students honored a beloved teacher battling breast cancer. Also, Ronald McDonald recognized the school for collecting one million pop tops to support the Ronald McDonald House and LMS student Cory Lillis had his hair cut for cancer.
English language arts teacher Kimberly Fitzgerald DeMeo was on hand with her husband, Jason, 4-year-old twins Sydney and Miranda, and other family members as “Team DeMeo” took on some talented Liberty basketball players to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
DeMeo has been a teacher in the West Orange School District for 18 years, first at Edison and then at Liberty Middle School. In 2013, she published a book, “One Little Egg,” describing the process of in-vitro fertilization for children, following a long journey to conceive.
Students and staff ran to see DeMeo as she greeted everyone with hugs prior to the start of the game. Ronald McDonald himself made an appearance to present Liberty with a plaque for collecting one million pop tops for Ronald McDonald House and becoming members of the “One Million Club.”
The collection project began a few years ago and has been spearheaded by LMS science teachers Sue Zaccaro and Maria David.
During halftime, Cory Lillis had his hair cut for Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program to honor a teacher at Pleasantdale School also battling cancer. Lillis had been growing his hair for more than two years.
“No one can ever really help someone who has cancer, but you can shed light on the (mission),” Cory said in a release. “Every time someone asked me why my hair was so long, or why I don’t get my hair cut, I was able to tell them that I was growing it to donate, because I have a very special teacher that is sick.
“After growing my hair for more than two years, I kind of miss it,” he continued. “But I’m proud of myself for having continued to grow it, and that the teachers and students at Liberty were there when I got it cut.”
It was an exciting afternoon of basketball as the Liberty students fought valiantly but were edged out by the faculty, with Team DeMeo taking the win, 57-49.
DeMeo was emotional as she spoke to the crowd.
“To say that I am touched by the student vs. faculty basketball game in my honor would be an understatement,” DeMeo said. “I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing community of colleagues, parents and students. Thank you to all who came out to support me today. Also, thank you to all who continue to support me through this journey that I am on right now.
“The outpouring of love and support that I have received is what gets me through each day. To my colleagues, students, family and friends — I love you all,” she said, as the gym erupted in cheers and applause.