WITHEE — What started as a call for solidarity turned into something simply overwhelming.
The weekly support by opposing football teams for Owen-Withee senior Will Maki — who was diagnosed July 1 with osteosarcoma bone cancer and recently had his left leg amputated above the knee — culminated Saturday with a well-attended benefit at Munson Bridge Winery.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the event, including three teams outside the Cloverwood Conference who came on school buses to attend the benefit.
“We know what it’s like because our head coach is going through a similar fight,” Cadott senior Austin Goettl said. “We wanted to what we could to support Will.
“What happened to him hits home for us because of our coach.”
Goettl was referring to the team’s head coach, Jeff Chruschiel, still undergoing treatment for cancer of the esophagus.
The ongoing support of the Cloverwood Conference teams started the first week of the football season, when Owen-Withee traveled to Chippewa Falls to play McDonell Central.
“The support from the Cloverwood teams has been incredible,” said Kris Karaba, a member of the benefit organizing committee. “We called the conference teams asking them to wear a yellow ribbon on their helmets as a sign of solidarity for Will. The teams did that and also did their own fundraisers to help Will.”
Just a few examples of the efforts of the schools in the nine-member conference: Abbotsford sold towels and yard signs that read “Will Power.” Assumption used its 50/50 raffle proceeds to raise money to donate and Greenwood/Granton sold T-shirts.
“The Cloverwood is a tight-knit conference and our kids have competed against (Maki) and his teams in several sports, so we wanted to do what we could to help out,” Gilman coach Robin Rosemeyer said. “I’ve known him from coaching against his teams and he’s such a good kid that you want to do something to help. The people who organized this event deserve a lot of credit for putting together a great event to support Will.”
Even those who didn’t know the teen on a personal level showed support.
“I hadn’t really known him before this, but after our game I got to visit with him briefly and he’s a tremendous young man and was in good spirits and said things were going well,” said Assumption coach Jeff Sullivan.
“Talk about going through adversity — losing a football game is nothing to the adversity that he is going through,” Sullivan said.
During the chilly event, the Owen-Withee Volunteer Fire Department directed traffic and parked cars.
“I’ve seen license plates from Iowa and Minnesota and a lot from Wisconsin today,” O-W Fire Chief Mark Renderman said. “We’re here to help with parking and if this is the little bit we can do, we’re happy to do it. This is worth our time.”
The event was a tremendous success in all aspects according to Karaba.
“Everyone in our community has been behind Will from the start and it’s great to see other communities that came out to support him at this event,” Karaba said. “I think for Will to see so many people at the benefit Saturday was the best medicine.”