By Natalie Bober
Lake Forest College athletes do more than vanquish opponents on the playing field. They also vanquish cancer.
With support from the athletic department and the on-campus Relay For Life committee, 13 of 23 teams hold a “Playing For A Cure” contest in which teams raise funds to promote awareness for early detection of cancer and raise funds for research, according to Ashley Wanland, Lake Forest College Marketing and Events Director/F.A.N. Club Coordinator.
“The teams’ efforts benefit the college community by bringing students together from different organizations to attack cancer, a disease that not only affects the person diagnosed with cancer, but also the lives of the people who surround and love them,” Wanland said.
Last year, Lake Forest College athletic teams raised about $25,000 for the American Cancer Society, Katherine Nolte, President of the Lake Forest College Relay for Life Board said.
The football team, which raised more money than any other Lake Forest College team during the 2017-2018 school year, is on track to exceed last year’s fundraising goal, according to Nolte.
“The football team has a made a great start to their fundraising for the year,” Nolte said. “Their ‘Playing for a Cure’ game [last Saturday] raised the most so far with $113 from our ‘Minute to Win It’ rush in the stands, where members of the Relay for Life committee have 60 seconds to run up and down the stands at the football game with purple cups asking fans for cash or change.”
The Lake Forest College football team began to fight cancer almost a decade ago when it established Community Day as a tribute to Benny Watters, a five year old who passed away from a brain tumor. In 2009, Benny was matched with the Lake Forest College football team by The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, an initiative which helps children battling cancer by pairing them with college sports teams.
Benny participated in many of the football team’s practices, as well as the team’s pumpkin carving party, game night, a half time ceremony, and picture day. Since Benny’s death in 2012, the football team has joined Benny’s family annually for a mini golf tournament.
Lake Forest College football Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach Luke Butts '12, who coached Saturday’s Community Day game, was a player on the team that made Benny an honorary member.
“The [adoption] of Benny [by the team] was hands down the best and most memorable experience throughout my four-year career,” Butts said. “Benny’s charisma and infectious enthusiasm to live in the moment and play in the moment positively impacted us all.”
Butts notes that “in just a year’s time,” Benny not only significantly impacted Butts’ life, but that Benny continues to positively affect his coaching career.
“[Benny and his] family helped me in understanding the importance of relationships and how those relationships can [change] people’s lives,” Butts said.
Following the football team’s example, in 2013 the Lake Forest College softball team, also working with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, was paired with Mia Gurevitz, who was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor.
“When Mia was three, Lake Forest College Head Softball Coach Joe Kinsella and I met Mia, her parents and her sister Rachel at a Starbucks in Deerfield,” Nikki Miller '13 said. “By the end of the night, Mia was holding my hand and chasing me around the parking lot. We knew it was a perfect fit.
“We ended up inviting her to our holiday party in late November or early December of 2013, and that was kind of our first team involvement/outing with Mia and her family,” Miller said.
Mia officially became a “member” of the Lake Forest College softball team at an induction ceremony in March 2013.
“As soon as the team met Mia, it gave us a lot more perspective,” Miller said. “No matter what was going on in our lives, it didn’t compare to anything that she was going through.”
Mia died on October 25, 2017, two weeks before her eighth birthday.
This summer the Lake Forest College men’s basketball team added Noah Palzet, 11, to its roster. Noah, who was also introduced to Lake Forest College by the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, is in remission from cancer. Noah signed a “contract” with the men’s basketball team on May 3, 2018.
Lake Forest College men’s basketball team seniors Danny Soto and Jordan Moran attended Noah’s remission party in August.
“Noah and his brothers were running around [Noah’s] house with a pet bearded dragon and covered in silly string,” Soto said. “It was the first time we were able to see him around his family and in his element, around all his favorite things.”
Besides augmenting team rosters with children who are fighting cancer, the Lake Forest College athletic department has sponsored other activities to fight cancer such as the “Be the Match Campaign” for women’s hockey alum Kayla Griffith. Last year, Griffith, then a graduating women’s hockey captain, was diagnosed with leukemia possibly requiring a bone marrow transplant. In an effort to find an acceptable match, the college facilitated testing students for bone marrow compatibility and added those students to the national bone marrow registry.
Additionally, Ry’s Run, an obstacle course sponsored by the athletic department for Lake Forest College students, honors Ry McCarthy, a goalie on the Lake Forest College women’s hockey team who lost her battle with cancer in 2009. Proceeds from the run benefit the American Cancer Society.
This past February, the athletic department partnered with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) to host the Coaches vs. Cancer 3-Point Challenge, a challenge that seeks to raise money for the American Cancer Society for every 3-point shot scored. Through the generous support of pledgers and donors during a three-week time frame and from the outstanding performance of the Forester women’s basketball team, the women’s team raised $2,333. This feat received national recognition as the team finished second among Division III schools and ninth among all Division I, II, and III schools.
The athletic department also holds the Lake Forest College Relay for Life, an annual 24-hour fundraising event benefiting the American Cancer Society. Team members alternate with one another so that an athlete is walking around a track or a designated path at all times during the 24-hour event. This signifies that, like someone who walks continuously for 24 hours, cancer never sleeps and that cancer patients don’t stop fighting cancer because they’re tired, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Lake Forest College has put on a Relay for Life event for a number of years,” Nolte said. “Cancer affects everyone in some sort of way, and this event helps the college community support each other as we remember and honor those who have fought cancer or lost their lives to cancer.”