Extra Effort: ‘Team Tessa’ Rallying for Dunlap Teen Fighting Cancer

PEORIA, Illinois (WMBD/WYZZ) — Cory Hynyk’s pregame speech to his Peoria Christian soccer team was direct and to the point.

“We’re fighting Dunlap tonight, not against them, but with them,” Hynek said. “For something bigger than ourselves.”

Team Tessa is growing by the day.

When Peoria Christian presented Dunlap in football on Saturday night, every player and coach wore a shirt that supported Dunlap sophomore Tessa Sutton.

“What the Suttons are going through, none of us would want to be in that situation,” Hynek said. “We know she loves football, still does.”

Tessa is in Memphis at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital undergoing treatments for childhood cancer. She was diagnosed this spring towards the end of her freshman football season at Dunlap.

Since then, the football community has gathered around her. In some cases, coaches and friends have shaved their heads and donated hair.

Her club soccer team sent her health care packages with photos of her teammates wearing armbands to support her fight.

Saturday’s Dunlap-PCS game raised $3,200 for the Sutton family through donations and t-shirt sales. The fundraisers help the Sutton family while they remain in Tennessee for the duration of Tessa’s cancer treatments.

Ashley Gleason/Sutton family friend: “The football community has been incredible,” said family friend Ashley Gleason, who oversees the sale of some Team Tessa t-shirts. “I have people I don’t know who reach out all the time asking if they can buy shirts for something. It’s been great.”

Dunlap won the football game 4-0, but everyone agrees that there were no losers that night.

“That’s the beauty of sports in high school. Winning is great, but when you have a community, a family that cares about each other, you lift each other up and do what you can for each other,” said Dunlap coach Allan Hanson. “I think that’s the biggest lesson for these kids. Winning is great, but beating cancer is the ultimate victory. It’s bigger than us.”

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