Golf match keeps Naperville teammate's memory alive
Three years ago, Michael "Mikey" Gustafson gave his all to the Naperville North High School golf team, even though a rare form of brain cancer was coming close to taking his life.
Now, Mikey's brotherhood of golf buddies is giving back to the player who united and inspired them by turning a cross-town match against Naperville Central into a fundraiser for the charity established in their teammate's honor.
The match at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Cress Creek Country Club in Naperville will raise money for the Swifty Foundation, which Mikey helped start before his death in January 2013 from a brain tumor called medullablastoma.
"It's awesome that these two rivals are coming together to raise awareness," said Patti Gustafson of Woodridge, Mikey's mom.
The match takes place during childhood cancer awareness month, a fitting time to spread the word about the Swifty Foundation's mission to fund childhood brain cancer research.
Gustafson said her family was dismayed to learn before Mikey's death that only 4 cents of every dollar available for cancer research goes toward curing pediatric cancers. Nearly three years later, she said the funding situation hasn't improved.
The Swifty Foundation aims to raise $60,000 this year to support children's hospitals and research projects that are targeting medullablastoma. Since its founding last year, the charity has donated $165,000 to those causes.
During what would have been Mikey's senior year, his golf teammates wanted to be part of that support and "do something special," said coach Ryan Hantak.
They decided to turn a friendly match with Naperville Central -- already referred to as the Ryder Cup like the tournament between pro golfers from the United States and Europe -- into a fundraiser by seeking donations and pledges.
Bond said he and his teammates have been collecting spare cash and change from their peers during lunch periods and at football games. From parents and neighbors, they've been seeking pledges to contribute a certain amount of money for each par, eagle or birdie during the match.
"It should be a lot of fun," Bond said about the match, which doesn't count in the conference standings. "Now that we're doing it for Swifty, it makes it that much better."
Bond said Mikey was a great friend who showed respect for everyone and kept his cancer far from his mind. After Mikey died midway through his freshman year, his teammates have kept his memory alive through the "MG" initials on the husky logo of their team polos, through gold Swifty Foundation wristbands and through the Mikey bench near the fourth hole on the team's home turf, Springbrook Golf Course.
"After the fourth hole at Springbrook, we'll know how our round is going and remember if the day isn't going that well, we can look to him for inspiration," Bond said.
Hantak said meeting at the bench helps players remember what's most important.
"We talk about him throughout the season: 'Mikey would have been happy just to be out here playing, so don't get frustrated if you make a bad shot,'" Hantak said. "It kind of puts things in perspective."
Even before she heard of plans for the fundraising match, Gustafson said she's been impressed by her son's golf teammates and how they've kept her boy in mind.
"If you could only know how they have kept Michael alive on that golf team -- it's been just such an act of love and such a tremendous effort by the players and the coaches and the parents," Gustafson said. "It's been very overwhelming."