Milton’s Shannon Wells runs the ball down the midfield during the inaugural Powderpuff football game between Essex and Milton on Sunday afternoon at Essex High School. (Photo by Oliver Parini)

A squad donning blue and gold stormed the Essex High School football field on Sunday afternoon for EHS’ Powderpuff Classic against the Milton Yellowjackets.

The third annual event was much like its predecessors – athletes battled for bragging rights in a laughter-filled game of flag football – but there was one twist this year. Rather than fielding two teams from the same school, Essex hosted Milton for an inter-school matchup.

Students from both schools decided to organize the event as a way to remember Grace Emery, a Milton High School student-athlete who died on July 1, while raising money for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a camp for children from Vermont or New York who have or had cancer.

Emery battled neuroblastoma, a nerve tissue cancer that developed near her spine, for nearly a decade and had taken refuge from her diagnosis at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta for many years.

The Hornets spent the week prior to the game practicing and strategizing with help from Essex coaches Dean Corkum, Leo Labonte and Ira Isham.

After a week of working on explosive speed with Milton football coach Drew Gordon, the Yellowjackets stunned the Hornets on the first play of the game, returning the kickoff for a touchdown. Essex put up a fight, but Milton ultimately topped the Hornets 20-0.

Even so, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta was the real winner of the day.

Milton’s Katie Rayner forces her way through Essex’s defense during the Powderpuff football game between Essex and Milton on Sunday at Essex High School. (Photo by Oliver Parini)

Proceeds from T-shirt sales, concessions, admissions, 50/50 raffles, as well as money the players raised individually and donations from the crowd, benefited the camp. By the end of the day, nearly $7,500 was collected.

“Raising money in Grace Emery’s honor was more meaningful than the score on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Gordon reflected. “This game was much more than a competition between two neighboring schools … It was almost as if they were all playing on the same team, working toward a common goal together. Of course (Milton) wanted to win the game – and they are certainly excited that they did – but they recognized that there was a far greater purpose than winning alone. They are happy that Camp Ta-Kum-Ta will get a nice donation in Grace’s honor, and they are looking forward to a rematch next year!”