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2018 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

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  • Hope
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  • Michigan

PURPLE COMMUNITY PURPLE

PURPLE COMMUNITY PURPLE COMMUNITY FOOTBALL GAMES—IGNITING SPIRIT AND TAKING ON CANCER 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. And as dozens of high school football teams demonstrated this year, football games can even fight back against cancer. In 2017, 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. Chippewa Valley Big Reds 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. 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. When he went to the doctor and was examined, he received a devastating diagnosis—he had testicular cancer that 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. Merchant holds the memory of this young man close to his heart, and every year when his team gathers together for a kick-off dinner before the school’s annual cancer awareness game benefiting VAI and the Believe Foundation, he makes sure to tell this young man’s story. “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. Every player on the Chippewa Valley Big Reds team plays in the cancer awareness game in honor of a friend or loved one who has been affected by cancer. Merchant is in awe of the young players’ commitment to the cause and of the community support the game receives each year. “It’s truly more than just a football game,” Merchant said. “We have 72 kids playing ball, eight coaches, and when you add it up, it’s 80 stories of people who know someone who is fighting this disease. Our players know it’s an honor to play in a game that benefits nonprofits that are on the front lines battling cancer.” South Christian Sailors A belief in giving back is often a value that’s passed down between generations. Mary Woltjer, a mother of three and one of the lead organizers of the South Christian High Purple Out game, 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, but a way to honor those who have been impacted by this indiscriminate disease. “One of the boys we honored during the game was a student and football player who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s SOUTH CHRISTIAN SAILORS 18 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

“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. Supporting research at VAI is something our community has really embraced, and everyone looks forward to our Purple Community Pink Game.” The school’s Pink Game began four years ago as a way to support three football moms who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Head coach Tim Wooer reached out to Purple Community and began a partnership that has raised more than ,000 for cancer research at the Institute. The event continues to be a source of pride for everyone involved, and Walters enjoys being part of an event that honors lives lost to cancer and gives students the opportunity to show their support for their friends and loved ones who have been affected by the disease. “This past year, two moms of seniors were honorary captains alongside their boys— one is currently undergoing breast cancer treatment, and the other is a nine-year survivor,” Walters said. “They walked out with their sons during the coin toss with everyone watching and it was a very special and emotional moment for all.” Thank you, Chippewa Valley Big Reds, South Christian Sailors and Traverse City West Titans, for spreading the message of hope, for honoring those who have been affected by cancer and for supporting cancer research at Van Andel Institute! If you are interested in hosting in a Purple Community game at your school, please contact Ashley Owen, senior event coordinator, at ashley.owen@vai.org. CHIPPEWA VALLEY BIG REDS 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. 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. “Our players know it's an honor to play in a game that benefits nonprofits that are on the front lines battling cancer.” - Scott Merchant “We rally around each other here when a member of our community is sick or hurting,” Woltjer said. “We aren’t just a school, we are a community, and we are a family.” Traverse City West Titans A deep and significant sense of community connects the students, parents and faculty of Traverse City West High School. Terra Walters, mother and Pink Game event coordinator, is proud of her school’s spirit and sense of togetherness and activism. TRAVERSE CITY WEST TITANS VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 19

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