Teacher battling cancer surprised with emotional tribute from students, Phillies

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Overcome with emotion and absolutely caught off guard, teacher Mary Polakow walked into a packed auditorium filled with students, school staff and members of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cheering students at Blessed Trinity Catholic School waved their rally towels and chanted, "MVP!" to celebrate their teacher, who recently completed chemotherapy and radiation treatment in her fight against breast cancer.

For a brief moment Polakow just covered her mouth, tears flowing down, trying to take it all in before groups of students rush over to her to attack her with hugs.

Polakow recently returned to school full time to close out the school year with her kids.

On Friday she was honored in a surprise school assembly ahead of being recognized later that evening at the Phillies game against the Washington Nationals.

The 65-year-old teacher is one of 10 "Teacher All-Stars" who were selected as part of the team's annual teacher recognition contest which includes essays submitted by students.

A former student, Megan LoMastro, now in sixth grade wrote the essay that helped Polakow get selected.

LoMastro wrote how Polakow is a hero and an inspiration and how she's learned invaluable lessons from her inside the classroom and now outside the classroom as she watched her deal with her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is fighting the disease with confidence and has never given up hope. She's still involved in school events and comes to check on her students frequently," LoMastro read from her essay, as part of the assembly.

Polakow's reaction was priceless. "Words can't really say a lot. It's an unreal feeling to be honored for something like this. And to see everyone in here, it's like, wow, that you guys went through all this just for me," the teacher said in a video posted on the Phillies Facebook page. 

There were more surprises. Polakow was presented with her own personalized baseball jersey, which she promptly put on.

In addition to the Phillie's mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, first baseman Brock Stassi and former Phillies star Gary Matthews were on hand to celebrate the beloved teacher.

Stassi used to work as a substitute teacher to make ends meet as he worked to get to the major leagues. He noted the significance of having someone so devoted like Polakow as part of a school team.

"The teaching staff here is kind of like a baseball team. Everybody has their roll, everybody has their job but they're also a family as well," Stassi said.

Polakow has been at the school for seven years and teaches fourth grade and is also a technology instructor.

She has had an impact on so many students, according to the school's principal Linda Milewski.

When you come across teachers like that, you honor them for their work, Milewski adds.

The principal said, "It was kind of hard not to tear up and cry," as she watched this teacher being showered with love and appreciation.

The students and faculty may know Polakow for her influence in the classroom, but perhaps she's made a greater impact on those around her as they've watched her fight against the disease she won't allow keep her from her students and the job she loves. 

"You keep coming back for the kids. I've been in education for 30 years. You just keep coming back for the kids to make a difference in their life," the All-Star teacher said.