SPC family comes together in support of Minooka's Gewalt

Donations to the Samantha Gewalt Fund are being accepted at the Private Bank, 502 W. Mondamin, Minooka, IL 60447. (815) 467-5321.

By Bill Scheibe

They were classmates and rivals, and in four-year varsity careers, Plainfield North forward Katie Cox could count on being stopped at least a couple of times by Minooka goalkeeper Sam Gewalt. It was the high school girls’ soccer equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier, courtesy of the Southwest Prairie Conference.

So, when Cox heard Gewalt would be sidelined for most of her senior season with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, her immediate thought was not about scoring points, scoring goals or even winning games. Rather, it was the question that many of her Tiger teammates considered once hearing the news.

What if?

“It’s heartbreaking,” Cox said last week, after Plainfield North beat visiting Minooka 8-0 to clinch a third consecutive Southwest Prairie Conference title. “It’s really … just … heartbreaking.”

But before the regular-season finale, Cox helped show Plainfield North’s program has developed the heart of a champion – on and off the field. Through coach Jane Crowe, the Tigers contacted Minooka and purchased 27 commemorative black-and-orange T-shirts to wear with Gewalt’s No. 18 on the back.

Throughout the spring, Minooka coach Chris Brolley and the Indians’ soccer program has been selling the T-shirts in an effort to raise money for Gewalt’s family. To date, they have totaled $4,500, and an emailed message from Crowe to Brolley and assistant coach Dan Kemock would add to that number.

“I got chills,” Kemock told Crowe before the game, “when I first got the email about this.”

Even though Plainfield North (16-2-2, 7-0) was in the planning stages of its Senior Night celebration, Crowe contacted Brolley with a plan. The Tigers would honor Gewalt, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments expected to last three-and-a-half years, by wearing the T-shirts in warmups.

“Jane emailed me a while back and told me they wanted to help us and support Sam and that’s great,” Brolley said. “It’s great to see that outside of the soccer field because it has opened our eyes to the outside world, as opposed to it just being a soccer game. There’s more to the sport than that.”

Apparently, there’s more to journalism than meets the eye as well. When word reached Crowe, she huddled with her captains – Cox, senior defender Hayley Wegrzyn and junior midfielder Ashley Auble.

“I actually saw a story in the newspaper and I thought, ‘Well, there’s something we can do,’” Crowe said. “I talked to Hayley, Katie and Ashley, wanting to see what they thought about it, and they thought it was a good idea to buy the T-shirts and wear them during the warmups when we played Minooka.

“I talked to Minooka’s coaches, and they thought it was a great idea. The girls were excited about it, they wore the shirts to school today, and a lot of the students were asking the kids what was going on.”

A similar feeling hit Minooka senior midfielder Becca Sutton and her Indian teammates. They did not know about the setup prior to arriving at Plainfield North, something that pleased the Tiger seniors.

“We wanted to do something to help her,” Wegrzyn said of Gewalt. “And we thought that it would be a nice gesture, especially being on our Senior Night. You could tell by looking at their faces when their players got off of the bus, it was like, ‘Oh, they’re wearing our T-shirts.’ It felt really good to do this.”

“It definitely is,” Sutton nodded. “I don’t think our team expected it, but it’s always appreciated and it’s great to see everybody in our conference getting behind Sam. It means a lot to her and to our team.”

Without Gewalt, Minooka (8-10, 4-3) could only watch as Cox chalked up three goals and an assist and senior defenders Brianna Buckley, Marissa Basar and Buckley led a Plainfield North defense that posted its ninth straight shutout. But the message before and after stood out beyond the lopsided final score.

It’s more than a game.

“The girls know that, when they leave here, we’re all one big family,” Brolley said. “We’re one big soccer family. For sure, it opens your eyes to everything, and our girls have responded by raising some money to support Sam, and a lot of other things have developed like this with Plainfield North that helps.”

“It has changed the game a lot to us,” Sutton said. “It’s bigger than soccer, and that’s something because of Sam that we can all get behind. We should all be able to get together, rally around and support her.”

According to Crowe, that was easier than several of the saves Gewalt had to make in the past against Plainfield North. While the Tigers wanted to honor the person who performed so admirably in that goalkeeper’s jersey for Minooka, they also remembered the effect of the all-conference player.

“We’ve played against her for four years, and every year, she was a good goalkeeper who was aggressive in the net and had done such a good job,” Crowe said. “It shows you that it can happen to anybody, and our girls realize how lucky they are to have this opportunity to be on the field.”

“It’s sad when you see someone tear an ACL, but they have the chance to come back sooner,” Wegryzn said. “We feel really bad she has to go through this, and I know I would never want anybody on my team to go through that. And I would hope if anything happened like that to us, we’d have support like this.”

That support lasted until the opening whistle, with the Tigers jumping to a 7-0 halftime lead. The two longtime rivals squared off like boxers, the defending champion against the spoiler, and the early knockout punch meant Plainfield North retained the championship belt for a third straight spring.

But as the players of both teams shook hands and hugged afterward, the final still flashing on the scoreboard, they paid homage to Gewalt with more than game play, sportsmanship or T-shirts.

This, truly, is soccer.

“As soon as I heard Minooka was selling them, I thought it was a good idea,” Cox said. “I’m just glad that we could contribute by buying these shirts, and we’ll try to do what else if we can do anything else.”

2011 varsity roster
Callie O'Donnell Jr., F
Brianna Buckley Sr., D
Sofi Quezada So., M
Marissa Basar Sr., D
Kelsey Gill Jr., M
Shayna Dheel Fr., D
Heather Handwork Fr., M
Hayley Wegrzyn Sr., D
Katie Cox Sr., F
Paulina Caratachea Jr., F
Sara Stevens Fr., M
Madi Harris Fr., D
Nikki Auble So., M
Caitlin Tabilog Fr., F
Madie Hansen Jr., M
Meghan McGath So., D
Ashley Auble Jr., M
Paige Polonus Jr., GK
Anna O'Donnell Jr., M
Allie Kightly So., D
Ashley Handwork So., F
Kaela Leskovar So., F
Emily Brodict Jr., GK
Angie Dziedzic So., D
Carlie Corrigan So., D


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