Baseball-loving mom remembered with a charity softball tournament
In the Capek family, everyone played baseball and softball.
The family of seven even formed a team one year: mom Gloria was the catcher, dad Jim pitched, and the five adult kids and grandkids covered the other positions.
They named their team "Bohemian Rhapsody," after their father's Bohemian heritage and the popular Queen song they blared from a boom box before each game.
The Capeks were jokesters on the field, but also competitors. Bohemian Rhapsody won its division in the Glenview Park District's 14-inch mushball co-rec league in 1985.
Decades later, the close-knit family still plays ball, but now they play to honor their mother's memory and raise money to fight breast cancer, the disease that prematurely ended Gloria Capek's life at age 64.
"She would have just absolutely loved this," said her daughter, Deb Boylan, 54, of Vernon Hills. "This is one of the best tributes you can imagine. She loved baseball so much. We all grew up playing baseball or softball ... This is a way to keep her alive with us, and keep her spirit going."
Gloria Capek died just before Mother's Day 1999, after a feisty battle with breast cancer that included many grueling surgeries and treatments.
While mourning her death, her youngest son, Glen, came up with the idea for a charity softball tournament in her memory. The rest of the family was immediately on board, and in 2001, the first Gloria Capek Foundation Annual Softball Tournament was held. It was an instant success. Each year, an army of friends and extended family members volunteers to keep the momentum going.
"Baseball wasn't just a father-son thing. It was my mom, too," said Glen Capek, 44, an alumnus of Maine East High School in Park Ridge who now lives in Berwyn. "The first time I saw (my mom) throw a ball, I was amazed. It wasn't something I knew any other mom could do."
Adds son Jim Capek III, 50, of Genoa: "In our family, to say 'You throw like a girl' was a compliment."
The tournament is 14-inch mushball -- like the Capeks used to play as a family.
Now in its 11th year, the Gloria Capek Foundation Annual Softball Tournament, will be held June 16 at Harrer Park in Morton Grove.
To date, the tournament has raised roughly $60,000 to help Chicago-area breast cancer patients. Space is still open for teams to register. New this year, the winning team will get free registration to the Amateur Softball Association of America's Fall National Co-Rec Tournament in Forest Park.
"When (my mom) was sick, there was nothing I could do to help her," Glen Capek said. "So for me, this tournament is a lot of things. It's a way to honor her memory and to do something good, which is what she'd always want. And it'll help people to not have to go through what she did."
Food is also a big part of the tournament, as Gloria was obsessed with making sure everyone had enough to eat.
Her son Jim recalls a time she came out of a serious surgery, and the first thing she said when she regained consciousness was, "Did the anesthesiologist have a chance to eat?" Such a question was typical, he said.
Jim's employer, the Elgin Country Club, donates food for the tournament, which is supplemented by other donations. That means the players get more than just your standard hot dogs; it's an impressive spread of food including homemade salsa, fruit and a variety of barbecued meats.
"I tell people, 'Eat. That's the way she would have wanted it,'" Glen Capek said. "You shouldn't leave her house, or tournament, hungry."
Over the years, proceeds from the tournament have been donated to various breast cancer charities, including Gilda's Club Chicago and Loyola Medicine's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, which is this year's beneficiary. One year, the foundation used the money raised from the tournament to pay the chemotherapy bills of an uninsured suburban woman with breast cancer.
"It's not about the money," Glen says, "it's about doing something good."
At the tournament's lunch break, Gloria's children say a few words about her, and her grandchildren sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The song became a tradition after Glen's children -- the only grandchildren in the family who never met Gloria -- sang it at the first tournament when they were toddlers.
"The place was in tears," Glen recalled. "We were all laughing and crying at the same time."
Baseball was always a huge part of Gloria Capek's life. Not only were her children on teams, she and her husband coached a team of blind softball players.
A die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, Gloria frequently took her children and grandchildren to games and listened to her favorite announcer and former player, the late Ron Santo. Former Cubs broadcaster Andy Masur, Glen's classmate at Maine East, got Santo to autograph jerseys and hats which they auctioned off at the softball tournaments.
Though she's been gone for 13 years, Gloria Capek's children -- Deb, Linda Lammersfeld, 52, of Capron, Jim, Karen Capek, 49, of Mount Prospect, and Glen -- still laugh, smile and beam with pride when they talk about their mom. They marvel at how she started a career after raising five children -- working her way up from a receptionist to a licensed private detective at Glenbrook Security Services in Wheeling. And they remember that after she got sick, she never complained or asked "Why me?" Instead, she worried about how everyone else was holding up.
Most of all, she was just an incredible mom.
"She made every one of us kids feel like we were the one she loved best," said daughter, Deb. "She would bend over backward to help people. She was an extremely gentle woman ... as I got older, I appreciated what she was able to do and how self-sacrificing she was."
For more information about the foundation and the tournament, see www.capekfoundation.org
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