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Mr. Middletown raises big bucks to fight cancer; Leach takes title, but three raised more than $3,000

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/18/18

Thunderous applause and cheers echoed in the Middletown Area High School auditorium Friday as senior Tré Leach knelt down and Zayla Gora placed a crown on his head, crowning him Mr. Middletown …

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Mr. Middletown raises big bucks to fight cancer; Leach takes title, but three raised more than $3,000

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Thunderous applause and cheers echoed in the Middletown Area High School auditorium Friday as senior Tré Leach knelt down and Zayla Gora placed a crown on his head, crowning him Mr. Middletown 2018.

“I was surprised. There’s not one king — everyone’s raising money for a good cause. It all goes to one cause, and that’s the most important thing,” Leach said.

Leach was one of 12 students vying for the title of Mr. Middletown on Friday. Mr. Middletown is an annual male pageant in which students don their best formalwear and swimsuits and showcase their talents to raise money for the school’s Mini-THON, which then donates the money to Four Diamonds, an organization that battles childhood cancer.

At the end of the pageant, organizers revealed that the students raised $16,736.55. On Monday, however, Mini-THON co-advisor Cheryl Friedman said after final calculations, $18,763.43 was raised.

Leach and two other boys — Jared Knaub and Jacob Spear — all raised more than $3,000. While Leach was crowned Mr. Middletown, Friedman said the club is still calculating whether Knaub or Spear raised more money. Their exact numbers were not available Tuesday.

Regardless of who raised the most, she said, Knaub and Spear will be honored at a later Mini-THON event.

“I was beyond excited and shocked,” Friedman said of the total. “They did it. They raised the money. They got the people to come that night.”

The total raised last year was about $10,000, so the amount almost doubled this year.

To raise money for Four Diamonds, the boys donned formalwear, swimsuits and, for some, a Santa costume, a Shrek mask and a dress.

The pageant is divided into three parts — an interview in formalwear, a swimsuit competition and a talent competition. The students answered a number of questions, ranging from “why is water wet” to what does FTK — which stands for “for the kids,” a phrase often linked with the fundraiser — mean to them.

Sealing his win, Leach came out during the swimsuit competition in a windbreaker and unzipped it, revealing a coconut bra. During the talent competition, Leach and fellow competitors Tom Einolf, Matt Schopf and Kyle Truesdale dressed in Santa’s hats and red shorts to perform a “Mean Girls”-inspired dance to “Jingle Bell Rock.”

In an interview before the pageant, Leach said they were initially planning on performing solo acts, but decided to team up after watching the routine on YouTube.

Participating in Mr. Middletown, Leach said, was a lot of fun.

“I was nervous in the beginning, but then I was mad because it was going by so quickly. By the end, I was like, ‘Man, I want to do this again,’” Leach said.

Some of the other competitors also decided to dance. The audience cheered when Spear — clad in a pink dress and curly wig — was lifted into the air by Brendan Douglass during their “Dirty Dancing” routine.

Others chose to sing or lip sync, and Justin Shaffer gave a comedic motivational speech.

“I’m so proud of them. It was a great ending to a lot of hard work,” Friedman said.

After the boys performed in a group dance, this year’s Four Diamonds family, the Goras, took the stage.

Stan Gora said his son, Ayden, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013 at age 2. One morning, he woke up with a swollen eye. The pediatrician told the family to go to the hospital to get antibiotics. When the doctors did a blood test, they told the Goras that something was wrong.

He was diagnosed with leukemia.

Treatment — daily doses of chemotherapy, weekly blood transfusions, and monthly spinal taps — was Ayden’s routine for three years. Ayden, Stan said, couldn’t go anywhere because of the possible risk of compromising his immune system.

Stan said there were times when Ayden would be admitted to the hospital for weeks or months either because of illness or to monitor his chemotherapy.

“He was not allowed to interact with other kids and lived a somewhat sheltered life,” Stan said.

Ayden lost his hair and most days was nauseous and fatigued. At the end of the three years of his treatment, Ayden relapsed.

“This time it came back with a vengeance,” Stan said.

He said the cancer appeared to be immune to chemotherapy, and Ayden tried other options with no avail.

Running out of options, Ayden started another treatment that modified his t-cells to attack the leukemia cells. The side-effects plummeted his blood pressure nearly to zero, and Ayden was immediately admitted to the ICU.

Ayden was placed on a ventilator and put into a coma.

“He was in this state for a week, during which we had no idea what the outcome was going to be and how it was going to play out,” Stan said.

When he came out of the coma, Stan said Ayden worked very hard and by Christmas 2016, the family discovered that the treatment worked.

Ayden was cancer-free.

“We had not heard those words for a long time,” Stan said.

Last fall, Ayden started kindergarten, and come Christmas, he was free of cancer for a year.

Four Diamonds, Stan said, helped cover medical costs, co-pays for medicine, gas to get to the hospital, food coupons for the hospital and support for the family and children.

“Four Diamonds is possible from events like this and people like you,” Stan said.

Leach said the Goras’ story was inspiring.

“That’s why we all come out here,” Leach said.