Alums turn to powderpuff football to raise money to combat Alzheimer’s

July 30, 2015
By Bill Krueger

Sarah Styron and Dawn Cocker are doing an end run around Alzheimer’s disease.

The two NC State graduates head the Raleigh chapter of Blondes vs. Brunettes, part of a benefit for the national Alzheimer’s Association. The group’s signature event is a powderpuff football game between — you guessed it! — a team of blondes and a team of brunettes.

This year’s game, which drew a record crowd of 400, helped the Raleigh group raise more than $77,000 for the association’s Eastern North Carolina chapter. With the Brunettes’ win, the four-year series is tied 2-2. Plans are already underway for the tiebreaker game next summer.

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Dawn Cocker and Sarah Styron

Styron, 29, and Cocker, 32, who play for the Blondes, are competing for more than bragging rights. Both have Alzheimer’s in their families.

“It is an awful disease,” says Cocker, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in agricultural business management and works for Biologics, a specialty pharmacy in Cary, N.C., for cancer patients. “For most people in their 30s, they probably don’t see it; but for those of us with personal connections, I’m terrified.”

Alzheimer’s is an incurable dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every 67 seconds another American develops Alzheimer’s — almost two-thirds of them are women.

That’s why Styron and Cocker take the fight to heart — and to the gridiron.

Over the past four years, the Raleigh Blondes vs. Brunettes group has raised close to $220,000 through corporate sponsorships, the football game and other events, including a 1980s-style prom and charity tents at North Hills’ beach music nights. Many of the more than 80 members also volunteer at a Triangle-area senior citizens’ community, working with residents with Alzheimer’s.

It’s a big commitment in time and energy, and Styron says it’s well worth the effort.

“I had a woman introduce herself — a complete stranger — and thank me for what we’re doing, telling me her husband was just diagnosed,” says Styron, who received her degree in business management in 2007 and works for Revered, a brand marketing firm in Raleigh. “That kind of stuff keeps me going.”

Styron and Cocker are encouraged by recent news of a new drug that may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. They point out that of the 10 leading causes of death, Alzheimer’s is the only one with no prevention or no cure.

“If people wonder why they should care, that right there is the reason,” Styron says.

Barring a medical breakthrough, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is forecast to nearly triple from 5.1 million to as many as 13.8 million by 2050.

Learn more about Blondes vs. Brunettes at www.bvbraleigh.org and find a schedule of upcoming events sometime in September.

— Carole Tanzer Miller

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