04/11/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
IT WAS A BOLD AND BALD-FACED—OK RATHER, BALD-HEADED—act of friendship: On March 11, 13 fifth-grade boys lined up to have their pates shaved at the Men's Room, a San Marcos, Calif., hair salon. Valuing substance over style, the boys embraced the full-sheared look because their classmate Ian O'Gorman, 11, about to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, would soon lose his hair. Says Ian's pal, Erik Holzhauer, also 11: "You know, Ian's a really nice kid. We shaved our heads because we didn't want him to feel left out."
If compassion were a subject, the Bald Eagles, as the boys now call themselves, would clearly get A's. They look notice in early February that Ian was starting to lose weight. Then on Feb. 18 doctors removed a tumor the size of an orange from Ian's small intestine. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which has a 68 percent survival rate after five years for children under the age of 15. Two days later, Ian's best friend, Taylor Herber, came to the hospital. "At first I said I would shave my head as a joke, but then I decided to really do it," says Taylor. "I thought it would be less traumatizing for Ian." At school he told the other boys what he was planning, and they jumped on the bald wagon.
Soon, says Erik, "just about everyone wanted to shave their heads." That included a few girls, who never went through with it, much to Erik's relief—"I don't think Ian wanted to be followed around by a bunch of bald girls," he observes—and Jim Alter, 50, their teacher, who did. "They did all this by themselves," he says. "They're just really good kids. It was their own idea. The parents have been very supportive."
Ian, who completes his chemo in May, is already well enough to be playing first base on his Little League baseball team. "What my friends did really made me feel stronger. Tt helped me get through all of this," he says gratefully. "I was really amazed that they would do something like this for me." And they won't slop until it's over. "When Ian gets his next CAT scan," vows Erik, "if they decide to do more chemotherapy, we'll shave our heads for another nine weeks."