De Smet Jesuit High School played for something bigger than football. Hudl’s Must-See Matchups provided a platform for the fight against cancer.

De Smet Jesuit High School (MO) alum and former football player Cooper Harrison knows firsthand about the life-altering effects of cancer.

At the tender age of seven years old, his world was rocked when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. He underwent two and a half years of treatment at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and remembers missing out on sports for a time.

Now years removed from his playing days, he’s made it a priority to give back to the types of causes that helped save his life. So when his former coach, De Smet legend Pat Mahoney, asked if he’d be interested in participating in the Paint It Pink rivalry game against Saint Louis University High School, he jumped at the chance.

Later, current De Smet head coach John Merritt connected with Harrison and asked if he would speak to the team and lead them out of the tunnel on Friday night.

Harrison’s message was simple: “I told them you’re playing for people who think you’re superheroes,” Harrison said. “They think of you as these upper-echelon people because there are kids right now who are in the hospital or going through treatments and they can’t play a sport.”

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Bringing A Fierce Local Rivalry to a National Audience

At first glance, that September 29th night appeared to be just the latest installment of a storied rivalry between De Smet Jesuit High School and St. Louis University High School (SLUH). The game has a self-described little brother-big brother feel to it, with both schools forged by their faith, proximity and nearly identical school missions.

The football is great, too. No three tight end sets and fullback dives here. Elite prospects. Passionate fan bases. A national audience. A bigger purpose. This game had it all.

Must-See Matchups is a weekly high school sports livestream series on the Hudl platform, created to spotlight schools from all corners of the country. It features programs eager to stream their games to a larger audience and involve their students in the process. It was a no-brainer decision for De Smet.

“The opportunity to be on a national platform is always very appealing to us. Our athletic program is one of the best in the state,” said De Smet athletic director Harold Barker. “...We have alumni all over the world and so giving our alumni the opportunity to watch their high school team play, to think back and reminisce with other alumni…it’s powerful for us.” 

Unlike many schools across the country, De Smet’s history with livestreaming started prior to attendance restrictions because of the pandemic. The idea to livestream games came from a group of students who were interested in the challenge and had future hopes of pursuing live sports production.

Their small but mighty crew of four students and moderator John Hawkey have the operation down pat. On game day, they usually have one or two students on the computer running the scorebug and a pair of announcers handling play-by-play and commentator duties.

Hawkey admits the partnership with Hudl and Must-See Matchups was at first met with questions from fans. But those questions quickly turned to excitement once the school started to promote the game via social media.

“It brought up a lot of questions like, what does this mean? What is (the partnership) going to do?” Hawkey said. “...But it started to build excitement when they began to understand a little more of what it was. That they were going to get more national views and show us off.”

The broadcast was a success by all accounts, totaling around 4,100 livestream views.

Barker agreed that the Hudl name added an extra level of cache to the game and provided a great platform for both school’s fundraising efforts.

“I think both schools were really excited about that,” he said. “It just elevates the whole event, you know, being able to attach Hudl to the name.”

Bigger Than Football

Educate. Honor. Fundraise. 

Those are the goals American Cancer Society Senior Development Manager Lauren Bryant has for organizing fundraiser games. It’s one of the many causes she captains, including the American Cancer Society All-Star High School Football Game, which showcases the top talent in the St. Louis metro area.

De Smet is all too familiar with that game. They host practices and team dinners during the week leading up to the game and often have players representing the school on the field.

So when Bryant was looking to raise money for the all-star showcase, she knew De Smet and SLUH would be fantastic partners. 

“I had a meeting with the SLUH coach and he recommended that we do a fundraiser game with De Smet, and I thought ‘This is perfect’,” she said.

All of the effort and thoughtfulness made for an incredibly special night. The fierce rivalry was broadcast nationally courtesy of Must-See Matchups. Both fanbases wore JESUITS VS. CANCER t-shirts and created a wall of hope with placards honoring loved ones affected by cancer. The placards were collected and school leaders prayed over them at halftime.

“It was just a really powerful moment that goes beyond the game of football and galvanizes the community totally,” Barker said.

Bryant was thrilled with the $3,200 raised from the event. But the night represented something more than money, she explained. It proved how impactful the American Cancer Society’s mission is and how many lives they touch.

“Seeing the schools get involved, it shows how much our mission is to touch everybody,” she said. “...To see these kids care about something bigger than them, I can’t put into words what it means to me.”

A Moment to Last a Lifetime

Head coach John Merritt remembers the moment vividly. It lasted only about 11 seconds by his estimate, but that was enough to last a lifetime.

The sky was an eye-catching shade of purple and orange. Puffs of grayish smoke and anticipation lingered in the air. The stands of Pierre LaBarge Stadium were filled with walls of bright pink and white JESUITS VS. CANCER t-shirts. 

That night had a little bit of everything. It had De Smet vs. St. Louis University High School–one of the biggest high school football rivalries in the state of Missouri. It had the allure of being livestreamed nationally as a Hudl Must-See Matchup. And it had a purpose far greater than the final score of a football game. 

The game–and everything it stood for–was a smashing success for De Smet.

The Spartans dominated their rivals 38-13 and later went on to finish the season 10-2 with a deep playoff run.

But moments before Cooper and the De Smet varsity team ran out of the smoke-filled tunnel before kickoff, Merritt used those 11 or so seconds to soak it all in. 

Maybe it was the thrill of Hudl’s national audience. Maybe it was Harrison’s pregame message still on the mind. Or maybe it was the bigger purpose this game provided. Whatever it was, it’s not something he–or anyone else associated with this game–will forget anytime soon.

“For the kids, this was a lifetime moment and that’s something we talk to them about. Don’t miss that. Make sure you enjoy it and make sure you soak it in,” Merritt said. “Make sure you remember it for when you’re 65 years old and you come back to your 40th high school reunion and you say, hey, remember when we ran out against SLUH and that game was on Hudl and it was streamed all over the world? I mean, that’s cool. And that’s not a moment that comes every day for sure.”