Award honors star athletes' memories

Award honors star athletes' memories

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Award honors star athletes' memories

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Caroline Found was entering her senior year at West High when she was killed in a moped accident on Aug. 11, 2011.

Drew Wall was a 16-year-old sophomore at Cedar Rapids Kennedy when he succumbed to cancer on Nov. 26, 2012.

Two lives that were cut short by tragedy are now inspiring others to compete with honor and grace in athletics.

Found and Wall were the inspiration for an award that West High counselor Paul Breitbach recently created with help from Kennedy boys golf coach Mark Wilden.

“Having been through Caroline Found’s death the previous year, I wanted to reach out and offer our support,” Breitbach said. “Becase of that action, many amazing things have happened.”

The award is called the “Just Drew It/Live Like Line Pursuing Victory with Honor” and is given to a high school student or team that shows the same competitive spirit that Found and Wall displayed on a regular basis.

“He and I have just taken this on and are getting our feet wet,” Breitbach said of working with Wilden. “Mark and I have met a couple times just about this idea.”

Found competed in volleyball and softball for West, earning respect and admiration as a leader in both sports. She was 17 when she was killed.

Wall competed for the Kennedy golf team despite having been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, when he was 11. His right leg was amputated, but with help from a prosthetic limb, he remained active in sports.

Students and faculty from West and Kennedy will work together to promote the award.

Breitbach met with members of the Kennedy golf team Friday to discuss ways for them to become more involved once their season ends. Breitbach currently picks the award winners and he makes each individual certificate that comes with being honored.

“I said when your season is done, I want to sit down with some of your athletes and some of our athletes and have a meeting, not entirely turn it up to them, but get them more involved,” Breitbach said. “So for now, we don’t have a committee. I just kind of see things and put together and send it out.”

Wilden described the award as the perfect fit for two kids who embraced competition and life.

“Caroline was a great person and around school people looked up to her,” Wilden said. “And Drew was the kind of guy who drew positive attention. He did all kinds of things for other people. He was very unselfish.”

Kennedy finished runner-up at last year’s state meet and is considered one of the top contenders this year. Wilden said Drew Wall’s memory has helped to propel his program. He compared Wall’s impact at Kennedy to what Jim Valvano did on a national scale with his “Don’t Ever Give Up” speech months before dying of cancer in 1993.

“It definitely keeps things in perspective,” Wilden said. “I’ve said before I was just thinking about what Drew had to go through with the surgeries and losing his leg and just looking at what he did day in and day, if you hit a bad golf shot, it’s not the end of the world.”

Linn-Mar baseball player Cole Gross was the first recipient of the award. He played for the Lions this past summer despite not having full strength and suffering from nerve damage on the right side of his body due to complications at birth.

Breitbach also recently selected the Cedar Valley Christian football team as the second recipient of the award. The football program is in just its second season of playing a full varsity schedule and the transition has been difficult as evidenced by the results from the first two games, a 71-6 loss to HLV in the season opener and a 91-0 trouncing against Springville on Friday.

“I had sent one to them earlier when I saw their story and just talked about, ‘Hey, just enjoy the game and keep plugging away,’ ” Breitbach said. “They’re taking their lumps. But they’re competing because they love to compete and that’s really the essence of Drew and Caroline.”

The certificate now hangs on a wall outside the office of Cedar Valley Christian Principal Jeff Pospisil.

“Every bit of encouragement helps,” Pospisil said. “It is neat to see that even though we’re not winning games, people are noticing that we’re doing things for the right reasons, the character building and honoring God with how we play, the sportsmanship aspect, all those important things that often times get overlooked because you’re more concerned about wins and losses.”

Breitbach scours the Internet and reads newspapers looking for potential award winners. He has no set timetable for handing out the award. It’s more a case where Breitbach learns about somebody or some team that he feels deserves recognition and he takes it from there.

“To be honest, (I’ll do it) whenever something comes across that grabs my attention,” he said.

West High launched a mini dance marathon in January. The students, with help from the Wall family, raised more than $22,000 to fight cancer. Members of Wall’s family helped bring awareness by speaking at the event.

Drew Wall had always served as the family spokesman at cancer awareness events. The dance marathon marked the first time that members of his family spoke publicly since his death, Breitbach said.

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