11 months ago

2018 Annual Report


PURPLE COMMUNITY FOOTBALL GAMES — IGNITING SPIRIT AND TAKING ON CANCER PHILANTHROPY On any given weekend during the fall, people across the country gather under the Friday night lights, braving the cold weather to cheer on their hometown high school football teams. Football games help bring people together, uniting students, teams and the community around a common cause. Teams across Michigan hosted Purple Community games to benefit cancer research at Van Andel Institute (VAI). The games, filled with emotion and camaraderie, honored people affected by cancer and gave everyone in attendance a reason to be hopeful. Scott Merchant, head coach at Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, Michigan, has coached hundreds of young athletes during the past nine years, but there’s one player he will never forget. SOUTH CHRISTIAN SAILORS CHIPPEWA VALLEY BIG REDS One day, a junior, just starting out on the varsity team, didn’t show up for practice because he was experiencing back pain and fatigue. The student received a diagnosis of testicular cancer and he learned that it had spread throughout his body. He wasn’t able to play in a single game, but even after surgery and aggressive treatments, he remained there for his team and cheered them on throughout the season from the sidelines. Sadly, before he could graduate, his life was tragically cut short, and he passed away from the disease. “So many people are affected by cancer, but when it gets one of your players, and it happens right in front of your face, it really hits home and inspires you to take action,” Merchant said. Mary Woltjer, a mother of three and one of the lead organizers of the South Christian High Purple Out game, rallies her school in support of VAI’s mission, and believes her school’s generosity stems from faith, community and a culture of compassion. In 2017, the school hosted a game that raised more than ,000 to benefit cancer research at VAI. In total, Woltjer has helped organize five years of Purple events, and to date the school has raised more than ,000. While this amount is impressive, the events have become more than a source for fundraising — they have become a way to honor those who have been impacted by this indiscriminate disease. TRAVERSE CITY WEST TITANS “One of the boys we honored during the game was a student and football player who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — he’s now in remission, but we still wanted him to know how much support he has in our community,” Woltjer said. The game also honored Bob Blacquiere, who had served as South Christian’s head football coach for nearly 40 years and was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016. “Most people know someone who has been affected by cancer, and supporting research at VAI is something our community has really embraced...” A member of the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame, Blacquiere helped generations of South Christian Sailors achieve their dreams. During the game, members of the football team, students, friends and family joined Blacquiere on the field to say “thank you” for his spirit and his service. A deep and significant sense of community support also connects the students, parents and teachers of Traverse City West High School. Terra Walters, mother and Pink — Terra Walters Game event coordinator, is proud of her school’s spirit and sense of togetherness and activism, which have helped raise more than ,000 to benefit cancer research. “Giving back to our community and helping others is part of Traverse City West Football’s philosophy,” Walters said. “Most people know someone who has been affected by cancer, and supporting research at VAI is something our community has really embraced, and everyone looks forward to our Purple Community Pink Game.” TRAVERSE CITY WEST TITANS 44 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2018 VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2018 | 45

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