Any softball player caught looking at strike three against Metea Valley, don't fret. You've done a good thing.
A "Strike Out Cancer" fundraiser spearheaded by Metea sophomore right-handed pitcher Elise Titiner has people donating money for each strikeout the Mustangs' varsity and junior varsity pitchers ring up.
An effort that has also encompassed sponsorship donations and T-shirt sales -- nearly 350 of them at $10 each -- Titiner was moved by the plight of Gabriella Miller, who died last October at the age of 10 from pediatric brain cancer. The little girl lived in Virginia, the local connection being the Lombard synagogue where both the Titiners and members of the Miller family are members.
"It's heartbreaking, and I wanted to do all I could to help," Elise Titiner said.
She followed the Millers' Smashing Walnuts Foundation, the name coming from an awareness builder in which the Millers used frying pans to literally smash walnuts, roughly the size of the tumor lodged in Gabriella's brain. Proceeds of the Strike Out effort go to this foundation, part of the Piedmont (Va.) Community Foundation.
"I've always been kind of aware of things going on around me and I've always been the kind to do what I can when I can," said Titiner, who along with senior Jenna Hall comprise the two-girl starting rotation for Mustangs coach Kris Kalivas.
"But when I heard about Gabriella, I mean, it's a tragedy -- a 10-year-old girl dying -- and I wanted to be able to do something about it," Titiner said. "Softball season was coming up, and it was kind of a way to combine two things that are important to me."
These two things merge fully at 4:30 p.m. Friday when Metea Valley hosts Waubonsie Valley for an Upstate Eight Conference softball game and a joint fundraiser and awareness builder. On hand will be a bake sale, more T-shirts, a 50-50 raffle and the always popular "chuck-a-duck" game.
"All the money that we make is going to Smashing Walnuts," Titiner said. "Now the whole deal is just getting as many people to go to the game as possible."
First-year Waubonsie Valley coach Valerie Wood said she "jumped on board" when Kalivas, who Wood assisted last season, proposed a dual fundraiser culminating in this game. Waubonsie's project, fueled by T-shirt sales from players throughout the softball program, targets ovarian cancer.
"Both my aunts passed away from ovarian cancer," Wood said, "so it hits close to home."
Wood said Waubonsie Valley graduate and former coach Aly Kelley (now teaching in South Korea) formed a Strike Out Cancer fundraiser in 2011. Wood is not surprised Elise Titiner has reprised the effort.
"This is very characteristic of her to do something like this," Wood said.
Chipping away at pediatric brain cancer one slow drop ball at a time, Titiner said donation information and the story of Gabriella Miller and the Smashing Walnuts Foundation can be found on the website of the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley.
"I just want anybody who knows about it to not put it aside -- not necessarily my fundraiser but the whole idea of anything pediatric," she said. "I want it to mean something to people."
Step Up to the Plate
Four years ago, Wheaton Warrenville South baseball coach Tim Brylka responded to another heartbreaking saga, that of former WW South star athlete Brian Schnurstein.
Diagnosed in March 2010 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or "Lou Gehrig's disease," Schnurstein lives in Michigan with his wife of nine years, Lindsay, and their young daughter, Kylie.
A progressive neurodegenerative disease, ALS attacks nerves and nerve pathways in the brain and spinal chord, destroying muscle function. According to the ALS Association average life expectancy is between two and five years from the time of diagnosis.
There is no cure for the disease -- but there is always hope and progress. Each season since Brylka heard the sad news he's wrapped a charity event around a Tigers baseball game. This time all the DuPage Valley Conference clubs are involved in a pair of doubleheaders Friday and Saturday at Benedictine University's sweet lighted diamond in Lisle.
Naperville Central and West Aurora start at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by WW South and Naperville North. At 10 a.m. Saturday Wheaton North plays Lake Park with Glenbard North vs. Glenbard East after that.
"The other DVC schools have been awesome helping with the cause over the last four years," Brylka said. "Always very supportive and never a question."
Ticket price is $5 for adults, $2 for children; there will be raffle items and T-shirts to buy and fan activities. All proceeds will go to the ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter.
Brian and Lindsay Schnurstein and his parents will attend the WW South-Naperville North game to throw out the first pitch.
Glenbard West boys track coach Jon Schweighardt, a teammate of Schnurstein's at WW South, was leading the Hilltoppers at Wheaton North's Best Four Invite on April 12. He said plans continue for the annual July golf outing at Arrowhead in Wheaton to raise ALS awareness and donations. Schnurstein comes back for that, too.
Schweighardt added, "He's definitely battling his butt off as well as he can."
Never has Neuqua Valley had as many lacrosse players advancing to play the sport in college as this year's senior class. The club will celebrate the players' accomplishment at a signing party following the Wildcats' game at noon Saturday against Geneva at Commissioners Park in Naperville.
Midfielder Brock Haake (Augustana), goaltenders Sammy Sanko (Binghamton) and Jake Ellis (Augustana), attack Mike Turner (Adrian) and defender Austin Jordan (Alma) will be guests of honor at the Ashwood Clubhouse.
"It's great because it's my kid," said Neuqua Valley Lacrosse Club secretary Kim Haake, "but it's also all these kids."
Neuqua assistant coach and the head of its board of directors, Brian McGinnis, brought up the idea for the ceremony. Each player has invited at least one person or is bringing an item that inspired them to start playing lacrosse.
Sanko (son of Dan Sanko, who recently resigned as Lisle's football coach), for example, has invited Tom Wood, coach of the club team he started out with. Wood also is the father of Metea Valley graduate Zach Wood, now a sophomore player for Virginia.
Brock Haake is bringing former varsity lacrosse coach and current freshman coach Mark Cummings. Brock's got 12 people coming to congratulate him.
Perhaps one's a physician. In Neuqua's 6-5 win Tuesday over Glenbard West he got cracked in the cheek and it took seven stitches to zip that up. The party pizza may be tough to swallow, but not Saturday's game against Geneva.
"He'll play through it," Kim Haake said.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1