Lutzenkirchen family making something positive of terrible loss

Updated 10/22/2014 10:25 PM

The absolute worst scenario any parent could face is the death of a child. Mike and Mary Lutzenkirchen suffered that loss when their son, Philip, a winner on and off the football field at Auburn, died in a single-vehicle accident in the early morning of June 29.

Just two weeks after his death -- which through social media immediately reached the Winfield and Wheaton communities where Philip was born and his parents were raised -- his three sisters, Amy, Ann and Abby, said there had to be a way to honor his legacy of community service, faith and character.


Here was a young man who at 23 had 39,000 Twitter followers based less on his football career and more on his outreach in places like Birmingham and Atlanta, said his uncle, Naperville Central athletic director Andy Lutzenkirchen. On the field Philip was a two-year captain for the Auburn Tigers, a three-year starting tight end who set the program's season and career records for touchdown catches at his position.

The Lutzie 43 Foundation was born, with a board of directors that includes Philip's father, Mike, sister Amy and aunt Katie Meier -- Mary's sister and the decorated coach of the University of Miami women's basketball team.

Mike Lutzenkirchen, naturally shortened to "Lutz" when he played power forward on Wheaton Central's 1981 fourth-place Class AA boys basketball team, has spoken before student-athletes at Clemson, Southern Mississippi, Kennesaw State and Georgia universities and high schools in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. In July he spoke to all 32 teams at a national 7-on-7 combine in Hoover, Ala.

Lutzenkirchen said he's now focusing about 75 percent of his time on the Lutzie 43 Foundation, 25 percent on making a living.

"To be honest, dollar signs don't mean that much to me anymore," Mike said before an appointment with another Auburn football alumnus, Bo Jackson.

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This week he took the foundation's message of character and faith development to 500 student-athletes at Naperville North on Tuesday; to the Neuqua Valley football team after its Wednesday practice; and to Naperville Central on Thursday for a school presentation and, later, to the football team.

"It was very powerful," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus, who said his players were locked in. "He sends a strong message about giving back."

Along with the positive, Mike Lutzenkirchen's presentation includes the cautionary tale of the early-morning events that took his 6-foot-4, 250-pound son's life and that of the vehicle's driver. Alcohol, a late-night drive, no seat belt. Correct choices can be such a thin line even for the best of us.

"Philip was 23 and mature and made decisions up till the last day of his life that were thoughtful decisions," Lutzenkirchen said.

The foundation board is in the planning stages of a Lutzie 43 curriculum for coaches "to help further develop their kids off the field," he said. People who knew Philip, such as Jackson, may also be involved to present the curriculum. Another of the foundation's goals is to provide scholarships.


This is all new for Mike and Mary Lutzenkirchen, creating such positives out of incomprehensible loss. During presentations Mike's learning to gauge the awareness of his audience's eyes, their body language. His larger presentations include a video Auburn produced as a tribute to Philip. Mike admits it helps when student-athletes see Philip catching Cam Newton touchdown passes.

At its heart, the message is simple to grasp: "He just respected people," Mike said, "He loved people."

The brainiac squad

Pardon the Benet boys cross country runners if part of their warmup for Saturday's West Chicago regional is spent estimating wind velocity's effect on momentum. Four of the team members recorded perfect ACT scores.

Senior team captains Brady McLaughlin and Sean Harnik plus juniors Zach Kowalczyk and Jimmy Rabe all scored 36 on their tests.

"I think cross country is one of those sports that it's such an internal mental discipline sport," said Redwings coach Kevin Renicker. "There's always been high academics on a cross country team."

He didn't know quite how high until an NC17-TV crew came out to interview McLaughlin and Harnik on the achievement. Kowalczyk also noted his perfect score, and after Renicker somewhat jokingly asked if anyone else got a 36, Rabe came forth.

"I'm kind of not surprised because these kids are so disciplined in what they do running-wise, so disciplined in their lifestyles, why wouldn't it translate to their athletics?" Renicker wondered.

Last week Benet won its 15th straight East Suburban Catholic Conference meet, McLaughlin the individual champion. He was followed by Redwings in the second, third, sixth and seventh positions.

"I think when it comes to competition," Renicker said. "guys like that just really know how to dial in that focus."

Golf outing a hit

Kimberly Marino, daughter of the late Naperville Central pitching coach and District 203 educator, Phil Lawler, was looking at the "ginormous" check as she spoke.

The big, symbolic one she and her fellow board members of the Phil Lawler Batting 4 A Cure Foundation will present to Edward Cancer Center at Edward Hospital in Naperville at 11 a.m. Friday.

Proceeds from the second annual Batting 4 A Cure golf outing on Sept. 20 will have Marino, Marc Sweda, Ann Dana, Alyse Bergmann, Nick DiGiovanni and Scott Lawler donating a cool $20,000 to Edward Cancer Center. An additional $8,000 will be donated to Naperville families battling cancer.

Last year's haul after expenses was $14,000. Helping boost the amount this year was items auctioned at the post-golf dinner at Tamarack Golf Club.

"We definitely doubled our numbers from last year, so that was awesome," Marino said. "Our first year, we were just kind of working out all the kinks."

Good answer

As Daily Herald correspondent Stan Goff noted in last week's story about St. Francis' girls volleyball team defeating Batavia, before the match St. Francis introduced 2000 graduate Kelsey Robinson. On Oct. 12 the outside hitter was part of the U.S. Women's National Team that beat China to win the U.S. women's first world championship.

On Oct. 20, Robinson was leaving for Beijing to play volleyball.

We asked Spartans coach Peg Kopec, "Why China?"

She said: "Because they pay her."

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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