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updated: 2/26/2014 3:26 PM

Dodgeball tourney raises money for ALS, teacher's wife

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By Beth Richman
Les Turner ALS Foundation

The largest officially sanctioned game of dodgeball involved 6,084 participants and was recorded on Sept. 25, 2012, at the University of California, Irvine.

Although Naperville Central High School freshmen Delaney Gibbons and Taylor Morrissey are not anticipating quite as many participants at their third annual Dodgin' 4 Lou Gehrig's Disease Tournament, they do expect roughly 400 players (40 teams) to participate and to fill the stands with spectators.

The tournament will honor Meadow Glens Elementary School physical education teacher Chris Benyo and his wife, Denise DiMarzo, who is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). It will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, at Naperville North High School, 899 N. Mill St. Proceeds will benefit the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

In 2011, Delaney and Taylor learned their PE teacher was caring for his wife who had been diagnosed with ALS, and the two girls wanted to help the couple by planning a fundraiser in their honor.

The first year, they involved 20 teams and raised $13,000. Last year, in response to the growing demand, they moved the event to a larger space, doubled the number of participants and collected $15,000.

With help from the Wellness Club at Naperville North and the DECA Club at Naperville Central, they are enhancing their marketing and sponsorship efforts and expect this year's tournament to be an even greater success. The organizers' goal is to raise $20,000.

"We have a lot of fun planning the dodgeball tournaments, and knowing our hard work brings together people to support Mr. Benyo and his wife as they fight ALS makes it all worth the time and energy," Delaney said. "We are excited for this year's tournament, and are putting in place new ideas, such as traveling trophies and an expanded silent auction."

Denise's story

Denise DiMarzo was always active and physically fit, so in early 2010 when she began experiencing soreness, fatigue and occasional falls, she was concerned. Initially, thinking the issues were the sign of a sports injury, she saw a physical therapist, but the symptoms worsened despite the exercises.

DiMarzo and Benyo consulted doctors and in December of 2010 DiMarzo was diagnosed with ALS.

Three years later, the disease has taken its toll on her body. She is no longer able to perform everyday tasks such as eating and bathing, and is dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. In addition, the disease has robbed her of the ability to speak, and therefore she uses a special device, a DynaVox, to communicate.

Before her diagnosis, DiMarzo and Benyo ran in road races and spent weekends cycling together. As a way to maintain their passion for running, the couple competed as part of the Les Turner Foundation's Run for ALS program in the New Jersey Marathon in 2012 and 2103; however, DiMarzo was unable to run so Benyo pushed his wife in an Adult Freedom Jogger along the 26.2 mile course. They plan to participate in the Boston Marathon and the New Jersey Marathon in the spring of 2014.

"Denise and I are humbled by the thoughtfulness and kindness of people like Delaney, Taylor and the team they have formed to help plan and execute the dodgeball tournament each year," Benyo said. "ALS can leave a patient and family feeling very alone in their daily challenges. We are fortunate to have the staff at the Les Turner ALS Foundation for guidance and the Naperville community for additional support."

Spectators are encouraged to attend the tournament; the entrance fee is $3. Updates are shared on the "Dodgin-For Lou-Gehrigs Dodgeball-Tournament" Facebook page.