DVC raises $4,000 for MS

By Gary Larsen
(Darryl Mellema, Mat Le Cren, and Eddie Burns also contributed to this story)

DuPage Valley Conference soccer teams raised almost $4,000 thanks to the DVC’s inaugural Multiple Sclerosis Awareness night on Oct. 2, when all eight teams played in head-to-head conference matchups and wore orange and white uniforms to help aim a spotlight on MS.

“It is great for the teams and great for the boys to be able to provide service and give back,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Guy Callipari said. “It’s not often that you see two teams pose for a photo before a match and that was great sportsmanship to see. It worked out really well tonight. This was just the first year we tried something like this and I look for us to build on this.”

DVC soccer teams have had breast cancer awareness games in recent seasons, but with other sports programs at the schools also targeting breast cancer awareness, boys’ soccer coaches in the conference agreed to target another disease.

“We’ve always had games to support special causes, but (Naperville North coach and athletic director) Jim Konrad brought up the idea that we should only have one cause per sport,” West Aurora coach Joe Sustersic said.

Both Sustersic and Andrea Purcell, the wife of former Naperville North assistant coach Mike Purcell, have been diagnosed with MS. Sustersic was diagnosed in March of 2011.

MS is a progressive inflammatory disease that damages communication between the brain and spinal cord. There is no known cure, and the money raised this year by the DVC will be donated to a few of the local MS chapters.

“It's something that's good to be a part of,” West Chicago coach Jose Villa said. “It's good for the players to be aware that there are people going through things like this in life. It's a blessing to be able to play the game. It's a way to show support to come out here and play the game and raise some money.”

When the idea of an MS awareness night was first suggested, Sustersic was initially reluctant to go along with it. “I was originally trying to get it to be an annual prostate cancer awareness game,” Sustersic said. “But at the preseason meeting it was determined that it should be an MS game.

“People like Jimmy Konrad, Guy Callipari, Bryce Cann, and Josh Adler – these are people I respect. I’m really pleased that they decided to make a push for MS.”

Long-time coaches in the same conference can become a fraternity, of which even those no longer coaching in the DVC are still a part. Illinois coaching hall-of-famer and former Naperville North girls’ coach Al Harris and ReddPromo supplied the orange and white shirts worn conference-wide on Oct. 2.

“It was for a great cause and it was cool to wear something other than our regular jerseys,” Wheaton Warrenville South senior Max Carey said. “It was nice to do something for a special cause.”

Sustersic’s MS was diagnosed early and its main manifestation thus far is occasional fatigue, and sensitivity to the sun. His body also takes a bit longer to fight off colds and sickness, but otherwise “now I can only put in a 12-hour day instead of a 14-hour day,” Sustersic said.

Preventative medication towards slowing the progress of his MS has been a family affair for Sustersic.

“Every night at 8 o’clock or so my 8-year-old son Dan gives me my shot,” Sustersic said. “I told him I’d give him a few bucks every day to give me the shot. It’s for his college fund, which he doesn’t really understand yet. He just enjoys collecting money.”

Symptoms and the speed of the disease vary from one person with MS to the next but if there’s one thing Sustersic could get people to understand about the disease, “it’s that, yes, it’s an illness but it’s livable,” he said. “Even though it’s an auto-immune system disease, it’s not as deadly as ALS and with the proper treatment, my quality of life is very good.

“I feel blessed and honored that the coaches wanted to take up a cause that happens to be affecting me,” Sustersic said. “I remember three years ago when we were out here and we played Wheaton North and we wore special shirts for Breast Cancer Awareness. I always tell the kids that there are things that are bigger than themselves. (Wheaton North coach) Bryce Cann and I did a thing with Juvenile Diabetes. Or we did a thing with Jim VanDenburgh over at Hinsdale South, where we did a match for Prostate Cancer or we go out to Moline and we do a thing with Rick Sanchez for ALS.

“Even if a kid asks 'what is it, what does that mean?' – that's awareness.”

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