DVC baseball teams joining fight against ALS

 
 
Updated 4/27/2011 9:23 PM

The connection between baseball and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was made way back in the 1930s.

That, of course, was when New York Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig contracted ALS. Within two years of rendering his "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech, he died in 1941.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wheaton Warrenville South baseball coach Tim Brylka's brush with "Lou Gehrig Disease" is much more personal. He's hoping to raise awareness of the disease, and funds for the ALS Foundation, at DuPage Valley Conference ball fields this Saturday.

In addition to having an uncle, Len Kunka, die in April 2009 from ALS -- which impairs nerves in the brain and spinal cord that affect voluntary muscle movement -- one of his former high school and college teammates suffers from the disease.

Brian Schnurstein, WW South Class of 1999, played with Brylka on the Tigers baseball team and they were teammates at Millikin University in Decatur. They were two classes apart but played together even as tykes in the Wheaton Rams football program.

"You talk about a competitor," Brylka said. "Brian was just a nasty competitor on the field whether in football or baseball. Brian wasn't a really vocal kid, he didn't say a whole lot, but you knew whenever he took the mound, whether he had good stuff or not, he was going to bear down."

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Diagnosed with ALS in February 2010, Schnurstein lives in Kalamazoo, Mich., with his wife, Lindsey, and toddler daughter, Kylie.

"The last time I talked to him was in the middle of March," Brylka said. "As far as I knew he was still getting around OK, but he was kind of losing some functionality with his arms."

WW South had a golf outing last summer to help out Schnurstein financially, "Swingin' for Schnur," and Brylka wanted to do something similar during baseball season.

"We thought this would be a perfect fit for baseball, even if people didn't know Brian," Brylka said.

Julie Sharpe, executive director at the ALS Association's Greater Chicago Chapter and a Wheaton resident, had already put the bee in Brylka's bonnet about a fundraiser, and he consulted the WW South people who conducted Volley for the Cure breast cancer events.

He broached the topic of an ALS fundraiser this March at the DuPage Valley Conference baseball coaches meeting, bringing up Brian Schnurstein as his main point of reference.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"A lot of them remembered Brian," Brylka said, "and the coaches said, 'Let's do it.'"

DuPage Valley Conference "ALS Day" will be held at each of the four DVC sites hosting baseball doubleheaders on Saturday: Wheaton North at WW South, Glenbard East at Glenbard North, Naperville North at Naperville Central, and West Chicago vs. West Aurora, a twinight doubleheader at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Brylka had red T-shirts made -- the ALS awareness color is red -- that players will wear during their warm-ups and coaches will wear during Saturday's ballgames.

Brylka sold 600 shirts within WW South, at $10 per with net receipts donated to ALS. He said Wheaton North and both Naperville teams outfitted their entire programs with the shirts. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Brylka said that people with connections to the Wheaton North and Naperville Central programs had died from ALS.)

There will be collection jars and awareness signs at the various diamonds on Saturday.

"Hopefully we'll get some donors at the game," Brylka said.

It didn't sound as if Schnurstein would attend the Wheaton North-WW South twinbill, but Brylka recalled his message at last summer's golf outing.

It's something we can all adhere to: "I'll do everything I can with the time I have left to enjoy the people around me."

Glove story

Chances are good that in the dark recesses of your garage there is an old, outgrown baseball glove longing to return to active duty.

The Chicago Bulls/White Sox Training Academy in Lisle is collecting used baseball gloves, a drive called "Gift of Glove." The gloves will be given to disadvantaged Chicago players in the Inner City Youth Baseball League.

Every person donating a glove will receive a voucher for 15 minutes of free time in the batting cage and a chance to win goodies autographed by White Sox players. The person who donates the most gloves at each of the five Training Academy locations will win four tickets to the July 7 ballgame between the Twins and White Sox.

In addition to the Lisle facility, gloves can be turned in to Training Academy satellite locations in Glen Ellyn, LaGrange, Tinley Park and Schererville, Ind. For details call (630) 324-8221.

Celebrity readers

Feeder programs have become essential to long-term success of high school football programs.

Along with the Addison Cowboys, one of Addison Trail's top feeder programs is its reader program.

In a community effort initiated years ago by athletic director Matt Thompson and former coach Paul Parpet, and renewed this academic year by Blazers coach Paul Parpet Jr., Addison Trail sends 15 players out every Friday to six schools in Addison Elementary School District 4.

"A big push has been to connect with the community, to make us visible, just getting people excited about Addison Trail football again," Parpet Jr. said.

It's not the same 15 players who read teacher-selected books to the young students. Parpet Jr. said he's had 35 football players participate, well over half his varsity roster. Group leaders such as receiver Anthony Catanese and cornerback Greg Schultz make multiple monthly visits during their Friday lunch hour.

"I think if we didn't get such a great response from our kids, I wouldn't have done it," Parpet said. "But they go out to the elementary schools and come back with such great stories. ... They're like celebrities."

The players receive hugs and sign autographs. Appreciative teachers and principals "can't wait for us to come," Parpet said.

Parpet has planned to "raffle-off" T-shirts next month to the elementary students when they answer questions about the readings, and is considering an elementary school night at Addison Trail during the football season.

In the short term, he's emphasizing the "classy, classy guys" he has in the Blazers football program, including 17 returning starters.

"We've got good people here," Parpet said, "and there's more to it than football."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com