WMHS basketball teams holding cancer fundraisers this week

When Amy Theisen was diagnosed with colon cancer in April, she discovered what many other Watertown families that have gone through tough times or medical challenges have already discovered. Watertown can be a very caring, compassionate city, eager to lend a helping hand for anyone that needs it.

To Theisen, that seemed natural. But it was her experiences during treatment, she says, that really opened her eyes.

“Living in a community like Watertown, it’s just that. It’s a community,” Theisen said. “When I was diagnosed, I had people stepping up to cook meals, drive me to appointments, and just an outpouring of support to help me in a variety of ways. But what I saw when I was getting treatment is a lot of people don’t have that support. It does change your perspective when you see the inside of how the cancer industry works.”

Cancer treatment, Theisen said, naturally focuses on treating the disease. But that doesn’t fix the emotional side, nor it does help with who is going to pay the rent, cook meals, fix the car or drive the kids to practice. That’s one of the main reasons Theisen — the mother of a Watertown-Mayer girls’ basketball player  — picked the Angel Foundation as the beneficiary of this year’s Hoops For Hope basketball cancer fundraiser.

The third annual cancer fundraisers — one of which took place during Tuesday’s boys’ game, and the other of which will take place during Friday night’s girls’ game — will benefit the Angel Foundation. The Minnesota based foundation is aimed to provide support to families in which an adult is suffering from cancer. A large part of that is financial support for non-medical bills such as gas, rent or mortgage, food or utilities.

More inclusive

While the fundraisers in the previous two years have supported breast cancer, Theisen said she wanted to find a more general charity that supported all types of cancer, in part because of her personal battle, and also because it will be more inclusive of others in the community and their loved ones who have battled cancer of all types. That will be reflected in the shirts for this year’s fundraiser — black shirts that feature ribbons of numerous different colors to represent various forms of cancer — as well as in the Wall of Remembrance and Wall of Hope, where attendees at the game can purchase a ribbon in an assortment of colors to write a loved one’s name and place on the wall.

Theisen said more than 150 shirts have already been sold, and more will be available at the games. Both games  also include a silent auction, and a signed Minnesota Timberwolves basketball and a signed Mike Singletary jersey will also be raffled off.

The players themselves have been involved in the fundraising effort, and will be involved on the game nights as well. The players have been busy obtaining pledges for the Bucks for Buckets part of the fundraiser. For both the boys’ and girls’ games, donors can pledge to give either 50 cents or $1 for every point that Watertown- Mayer scores.

The players will also play a central role during halftime of the games. During the boys’ game on Tuesday, the JV boys were to challenge their parents to a 3-point shooting contest, and during the girls’ game on Friday, the varsity boys will challenge their parents.

Theisen said it was great to see the players eager to step up and get involved.

“With the high cost of medical bills, the biggest thing is that it’s nice to see how these young people in Watertown have stepped up using basketball as a lunching pad to help with something bigger than themselves,” she said.

Don’t have to look far

In an era where cancer fundraisers have become common place at high school sporting events, the significance can often easily be lost. But Theisen said it’s important to remember those who have been affected during events like these.

“Everybody’s life has been touched by cancer,” she said. “You don’t have to go far to find somebody that has lost a loved one or has gone through cancer themselves.”

In fact, the Watertown-Mayer athletic community itself has been impacted by cancer over the years, giving added to significance to fundraisers like these. One of those sports families was the Younk family, whose son, Aaron, died after a 4-year battle with leukemia in 1993. Younk, who was diagnosed shortly before his freshman year, still played JV football through his sophomore year.

Younk’s father, Jim, was a longtime assistant basketball coach at Watertown-Mayer who also served as the head coach for two years, and coached several other sports as well. He said it was nice to see the current generation of athletes at Watertown-Mayer trying to make a difference.

“It makes you feel really good that they want to do that,” Jim Younk said. “Athletics has been a big part of our family. All three of our kids participated, so it’s nice to see the kids involved with that.”

More recently, former Watertown-Mayer basketball and volleyball player Stacy Loehrs died in 1999 after a 4-year battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, a little more than a year after she had graduated. She was diagnosed in 1996, but later returned to the basketball court during her later years of high school.

Her mom, Sandy Loehrs, recalls her daughter not being physically able to play many minutes, but the whole crowd — for both teams — rallying behind her when she did.

“In one game, she was trying so hard,” Sandy Loehrs said. “She didn’t have her strength, But they were letting her play as much as she wanted. When she finally made her basket, the whole crowd just stoop up and cheered.”

Much like the Younk family, Sandy Loehrs said she’s impressed with the interest the current athletes have in trying to raise money to help families that are going through what hers went through 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great that kids are stepping up to the plate and realizing that cancer does affect everybody,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect that person or their immediate family. It affects the family, their friends, and the community. That’s why this community comes together to support the people as much as they can.”

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]