Huzzahs, claps and roars of approval from the crowd of more than 100 echoed off the walls of the second floor of the Vista’s Carolina Ale House on Saturday.
No, people weren’t watching Ole Miss play the University of South Carolina in baseball on the ubiquitous flat-screen televisions on the tavern walls.
It was raucous praise to the doctrine of “Hair today, gone tomorrow” as a seemingly endless stream of hirsute men, women and children stepped into chairs and onto stools and had their hair cut Saturday in the yearly St. Baldrick’s cancer-fighting drive.
For every shorn head, money went to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a non-profit said to raise some $10 million yearly in similar mass hair-cutting rituals around the country. Each of them are held around St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’ll be doing it in two years,” said Stacy Puckett, 10, as she watched her cousin, Samantha Puckett, 13, of Pelion get her head shaved off by hair stylist Laken Atkinson, 20, one of some 20 barbers helping with the event. Some barbers came from as far away as Asheville.
“Yaaaaaaaah!” screamed a happy Samantha after Atkinson was finished and held up a mirror.
In the next chair, Samantha’s mom, Kristen Puckett, 34, was having her head shaved, too.
Later, Kristen Puckett said Samantha “has been waiting since 2010 to do this. We told her we wanted her to wait until she was old enough to make that decision on her own.”
Samantha’s grandmother, Violet Puckett, died of cancer, and Samantha had looked forward to doing her part to battle the disease, said her dad, Ray Puckett.
Signs were plastered on the walls: “Hair is an accessory ... not a necessity” and “Be brave ... Go Bald.” A slogan on the back of a T-shirt read “I braved the shave.”
As clippers buzzed on the about-to-be shorn, a roving announcer strutted the stage like a carnival barker, pleading with the crowd to donate more money and asserting: “We have more women shave their head in Columbia than any other place in the country!”
Some people donated as little as $10 Saturday; one person wrote a check for $2,000, said event treasurer Cher Hess, 42, of Chapin. She estimated that about 15 percent of those getting their hair cut were female.
“We raised about $95,000 last year, and we just get bigger every year,” said Ivan Baughman of Columbia, 63, the event’s main organizer.
All the barbers are licensed and most bring their own equipment. “We just don’t bring people in from off the street,” Baughman said.
More than 300 people had their hair cut Saturday, and – with $98,800 raised by 4:15 p.m. – the event easily passed this year’s goal of $100,000 by a little after 5 p.m.
“I’m just happy to be healthy and to be able to contribute in a way that will help the kids,” said Robert Hodge, 52, a chemist from Sumter. He was at the Ale House with his wife, Julie “Michael” Hodge, who was painting peoples’ faces and shaved heads for donations to the cause.
Although much cut hair was thrown away, hair that fit certain criteria – never been dyed, more than 8 inches long and able to be gathered in a ponytail – was collected and will be donated to “Wigs for Kids,” a non-profit that donates wigs to children suffering hair loss.
“Baldrick” is a made-up name, a combination of “bald” and “St. Patrick’s” and it should not be confused with Balderic, the eighth century French monk.
In 2000, three New Yorkers coined the name Baldrick, put on the first head-shaving event and donated the proceeds to children’s cancer research. Since then, it has grown to be a nationwide endeavor.
This is the 10th anniversary of the Columbia event, which is put on with a corps of volunteers.