A High School Team Cheers a Boy with Cancer

updated 10/01/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/01/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Central York Panthers football team

Since age 2, pint-size football fan Tucker Haas has been fighting sarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer. Now 7, he's had surgery, chemo, a stem cell transplant and radiation that damaged a lung—preventing him from keeping up with other kids. "It's a heartbreaker," says his father, Chad.

Enter the players of the York, Pa., football squad. After learning of Tucker's illness in 2005—his uncle's an assistant coach—they wore "Tucker's Team" T-shirts on game days; soon most of the school did too. Selling shirts and collecting donations, the team raised $17,000 for costs related to Tucker's care. Inspired, the town followed suit, raising more than $100,000. The players also made the sports-loving first grader an honorary Panther, with a locker and uniform; before one game, Tucker scored a "touchdown" in front of a roaring crowd. "We weren't just playing for ourselves anymore," says Eric Schwartz, 20, a player in '05 who helped start things. Adds Tucker's mom, Lisa: "He gets poked with so many needles; these guys see him as brave and the strong one. It makes the hurt go away."

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