Blondes and brunettes unite to fight Alzheimer’s disease

Monroe County ladies who are working to raise funds to develop treatment for Alzheimer’s disease through the 2016 Blondes vs. Brunettes flag football game at Mercer University next Saturday are, left to right, Allie Bailey, April Cassell, Gaylyn Cole, Jill Lancaster, Leighanne Etheridge. (Photo/ Karen Kinsler)

An epic clash will play out on the Mercer University field on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. as the Brunettes meet the Blondes. Actually the ladies taking the field are more allies than foes as they work together to battle Alzheimer’s and dementia.

This is the third year for the event, and it again has strong support from Monroe County. Four players on the Brunette team live in Monroe County, and one of the Blonde coaches calls Monroe County home.

Allie Bailey, April Cassell, Gaylyn Cole and Jill Lancaster are Monroe County’s Brunettes who are making their statement for dark-haired beauty and against the insidious disease that robs individuals of memories and independence and families of communication with those who have been an integral part of their lives. Leighanne Etheridge of Monroe County is co-chair of the event.

The women have been practicing for the big day of the flag football game since Aug. 8, and they have also been working at fundraisers and soliciting sponsorships over the intervening weeks. As of Oct. 5 the two teams had raised $72,126.50 toward their goal of $200,000. So far Team Brunette is leading the fundraising push by a substantial margin. But the game isn’t over. (Actually it hasn’t even begun.) Over 100 players, coaches, cheerleaders and volunteers have been practicing and getting ready for the game, and over 1,000 spectators are expected on Oct. 15. Following the Blondes vs. Brunettes match-up, all are encouraged to stay for the Mercer Bears game against Western Carolina at 4 p.m. (Ticket required.)

The ladies who got together for the first Blondes vs. Brunettes clash in 2014 dedicated the game to the father of Mercer athletic director Jim Cole, husband of 2016 Brunette Gaylyn Cole. The goal of that first fundraising effort was $50,000, but its success was more than double that, $125,000.

Activities on Oct. 15 start with Tailgate Town on the Mercer University practice field at 11 a.m. Bring your own picnic or purchase tailgate food from vendors. Enjoy music, dunkin’ booth, corn hole, football toss and other games and contests. Get a photo op with the players and coaches and then get ready for the Opening Ceremony before kickoff at 1 p.m. No ticket is necessary to be a fan at the game.

The Blondes and Brunettes will play four 15-minute quarters with an entertainment-filled 15-minute halftime break. The clock runs until a score or penalty and until one team claims bragging rights for the next year.

Karen Kinsler with the Central Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association said that Blondes vs. Brunettes has become the group’s biggest fundraiser. It began with a group of professional women in Washington, D.C. and has grown to more than 36 cities, Macon being the first in Georgia.

It is especially appropriate that women unite to find answers to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia because almost two-thirds of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women, and 65 percent of caregivers are women.

“We want to celebrate the power and influence of women’s brains and ask women to use their brains to take on Alzheimer’s disease,” says a promotion for Blondes vs. Brunettes. It notes that redheads are free agents.

According to information from the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and one of three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 15 million caregivers gave 18.1 billion hours of care in 2015, and Alzheimer’s and other dementias are predicted to cost the U.S. $236 billion in 2016. Numbers are growing as baby boomers reach age 65 and beyond.

The Alzheimer’s Association describes the disease as the only one of the top 10 causes of death in America that currently cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Warning signs include memory loss that disrupts daily life, changes in ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers, finding it hard to complete daily tasks like driving to a familiar location, losing track of time or place, trouble with visual images and spatial relationships, trouble following or joining a conversation, misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them, poor judgement or decision making, withdrawal from hobbies and work projects, changes in mood and personality.

For more information on Alzheimer’s, visit www.alz.org. To contribute to the Brunettes vs. Blondes fundraiser, especially in the name of one of the Monroe County ladies participating, go to mercerbearsbvb.com. Then make plans to cheer them on in person on Oct. 15.