Naperville North, Naperville Central playing for a good cause

 
 
Updated 9/18/2019 4:57 PM

Rarely is there a competition between Naperville Central and Naperville North where winning and losing basically doesn't matter.

This is that rare time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The District 203 Mikey Gustafson/Connor Hunt Match Play Cup is a nine-hole boys golf match, 3:15 p.m. Thursday at White Eagle Golf Club, which donated the use of its course.

"Donated" is a key term.

"For me the most important number is the amount of money raised. That's what I care about, not the score," said Naperville Central coach Barry Baldwin, partnering with Huskies coach Ryan Hantak in this friendly rivalry.

More than $10,000 has been raised through the District 203 Match Play Cup since Michael Gustafson died from brain cancer in 2013 at age 15, during the winter of his freshman year at Naperville North.

Connor Hunt died in the winter of 2018, his junior year at Naperville Central, after a five-year fight against alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive, soft tissue cancer.

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"He was a great guy, really energetic," Naperville Central junior Jack Busch said of Hunt, whose initial treatments consisted of 54 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, as stated on the Connor Hunt Memorial Foundation website.

"As a team we got together and discussed Connor, and what he meant to the program and his attitude, of how he came to practice every day," said Busch, also a Redhawks baseball player smarting from this summer's loss of former Naperville Central ballplayer Justin Wegner to cancer.

It's amazing Hunt had the energy to even attend practice. Baldwin said he'd come straight from chemotherapy to play matches, "sick as a dog." By junior year his strength was sapped to the point of barely being able to swing a club.

Like Busch, Naperville North senior Kevin Braner is a team captain. He lived near Gustafson and is on the Junior Board of the Swifty Foundation, which Gustafson founded "to make sure no kid had to go through what he went through," Braner said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Every second he was awake he was trying to make a positive impact in the community and in cancer research as a whole," Braner said.

Most prep golf matches pit teams against each other. Here it's golfer versus golfer.

"That's the cool part of it," Braner said, "but the second dynamic that I think is a lot cooler is we're playing for something a lot bigger than golf, a lot bigger than high school for a day. I think that's the more inspiring part of it."

Funds raised by the boys will go to the Swifty Foundation, which focuses on tissue donation and pediatric brain cancer research; and the Connor Hunt Memorial Fund, which raises money for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago oncology department and the Connor Hunt Service Scholarship. Hantak and Baldwin accept donations year-round.

"North did win (in 2018)," Busch recalled, "but Central doesn't make it a big deal about who wins. It's more like who we're playing for and what the guys would be like if they were on the course playing with us."

Three-sport dad

John Walters is Glenbard East's football coach. A former baseball coach at West Chicago and York, he taught his sons, Colby and Carson, to swing a baseball bat left-handed to gain an edge.

The boys still use that talent -- playing hockey.

Colby, 18, is in his first season as a left wing for the Philadelphia Junior Flyers of the Eastern Hockey League. After playing with the Chicago Mission Under-18 AAA team he joined his new team in August. He did play baseball four years at Oswego East.

Carson, 15, plays on the Mission's U15 AAA squad. He's got a promising future.

"I think ultimately he'd like to end up in the NHL," John Walters said. "But isn't that the dream of every kid?"

It wasn't his. Walters' wife, Michelle, came from a hockey-playing family, but John didn't even watch the sport till his sons started playing.

He's made up for lost time. The last car he traded in had 250,000 miles on it, traveling to Detroit, Boston, Minnesota, Ontario and nearby South Bend, Indiana. Even Carson's practice facility is at Fifth Third Arena near the United Center.

Due to Walters' football responsibilities, Michelle handles most of the travel, "a one-man show until mid-November," he said.

"The kids have been great understanding dad's a coach and can't be there all the time," Walters said. "And I've been great being there when I can be there. It's been awesome, kind of a two-way street."

Ultimate addition?

At the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors meeting on Sept. 16, members heard a presentation on the growth of Ultimate Frisbee and its current high school participation numbers.

The presenters were Naperville Central activities director Lynne Nolan and former Batavia football player C.J. Olson from Ultimate Illinois, said IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha.

The Ultimate Illinois website lists 30 high school boys teams and five girls teams. Neuqua Valley won "state" titles on both sides in 2019; Neuqua's boys are actually a national power.

At present those numbers are too low for the sport to be included on the roster, Troha said.

"Ultimate still has a long way to go in terms of participating IHSA schools for our Board to begin discussing a potential IHSA State Series, but I think it was a beneficial first step for both our Board and the Ultimate community," he said.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Twitter: @doberhelman1

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