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Kaneland, Batavia programs ‘reach across the lines of baseball’ with cancer fundraiser

Brian Willis' 11 previous chemotherapy treatments fatigued him more during subsequent days than at any other time.

He hopes the pattern holds a few hours after his 12th and final scheduled procedure.

Willis, the Kaneland softball coach, not only wants to attend Monday's baseball fundraiser honoring him and two other cancer survivors at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. He seeks to show how much the community support has enlivened him.

"I was very surprised and honored to be asked, going through what I'm going through," Willis said. "I'm not going to take anything for granted, and go out there and appreciate everything that's offered to me and go from there. It's a nice gesture to me, and I'm honored."

Kaneland and Batavia's "Pack the Park" senior night event also will benefit Kaneland baseball parent Phil Kassinger and Kaneland Harter Middle School seventh-grader Drew Hahn, the son of Geneva baseball coach Matt Hahn.

Drew Hahn, 12, has found no shortage of resolve ever since his March diagnosis with anaplastic large-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare form of cancer.

"I've kind of just went with the flow so far," Drew Hahn said. "I mean, it's all been pretty stressful, but I've just kind of went with it and dealt with things that came when they came and just took it step by step."

Kaneland and Batavia will play a dual senior night game at 7 p.m. Monday after the sophomores meet at 4:30. Admission is $5 for adults and students, and free admission for all children younger than age 6. All proceeds will benefit the Hahn, Kassinger and Willis families.

Both Kaneland and Batavia participate in charitable or service activities each season and traditionally have played at the home of the Kane County Cougars in past springs.

Deciding upon a 2014 benefactor proved a much easier process this time.

The Kaneland community already was backing the fall and winter diagnoses of Willis (colon cancer) and Kassinger (stage four lung cancer), whose son, Kevin, is a Knights senior. Once news of Hahn's cancer circulated, Kaneland coach Brian Aversa knew he had to react.

"As soon as I heard that, I was like, 'Man, this is a great opportunity for us to reach across the lines of baseball,' " said Aversa, a Geneva product. "We teach our kids every year about giving back to the community, and this was something we felt like was taking the extra step."

Aversa contacted Batavia counterpart Matt Holm soon after. The pair approached Hahn after Geneva's April 19 game at Kaneland.

When Hahn saw Holm saunter up early in the game, he figured he was there to scout the Vikings for the teams' Upstate Eight Conference River Division series.

When Holm and Aversa presented a letter outlining the fundraiser, Hahn nearly was brought to tears. The coaches of the Vikings' one-time Western Sun Conference rivals both have echoed the triviality of such things in the face of trying times.

"I've said it before. I can't imagine with as much time and everything as I spend out here with these [players] and everything, and then all of a sudden, something happens to somebody in my family," Holm said. "And it happens, it happens to everybody. People get sick and stuff. But the amount of time and effort that goes into that, you really feel for Matt and his family, just because you understand the coaching and that kind of stuff.

"As much as the rivalry and everything goes, that doesn't matter. Matt and I, we're friends, and that's what matters. I would like to think that any of the coaches would do anything like that for any of the coaches. It's like a fraternity. We're very pleased to do it."

Drew Hahn, who plays football and basketball at Harter, admits he was "almost speechless" upon first hearing of the fundraiser.

His family – including mother Cyndi and younger brother Ryan – knows he's usually anything but stoic. Drew Hahn remains upbeat and well-spoken while managing a daunting schedule that includes weeklong hospital stays at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center for chemotherapy before taking two weeks away from treatment.

"You try not to be biased about your own kids, but he's just handled this unbelievably maturely. Nothing negative comes out of his mouth. He takes everything in stride," Matt Hahn said. "He takes all the treatments in stride. The monotony and the boredom of being downtown laying in a hospital bed for a week, takes it in stride. I can't be negative, because he's not. So I'm almost taking my cues from him because of all his optimism.

"He told my wife the other day, 'Maybe because I have to go through this, somebody else will be cured of this.' And it's like, 'What 12-year-old thinks like that?' I'm just very proud of him. It's awful to watch him go through this, but I'm very proud of the way he's handling it. He has been very mature through the whole thing."

The Kaneland softball program hosted a cancer awareness day as part of a game last week. Willis again praised the school community for its support, and has been especially thankful for assistants Mike Kuefler and Kelly Ritchey, who have alleviated the stress from what Willis estimates are his first handful of missed practices in 20 years of coaching.

Drew Hahn echoes that sentiment for the community and his teachers as he works to finish the school year on time. His dad says the family is "cautiously optimistic" about his prognosis with chemotheraphy scheduled through the coming weeks.

Hahn slowly is regaining his appetite, which should only serve notice to the anonymous meal-droppers who have descended on the family home.

Further testing awaits each party after chemotherapy ends, but it's all in the name of pointing the arrow toward lifelong health.

"Nothing I can do about it," Willis said. "Just fight the battle and try to win the battle."

And realize no one faces the bout alone.

If you go

What:Kaneland vs. Batavia baseball game

When: Monday (4:30 p.m. sophomore game, 7 p.m. varsity)

Where: Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, Geneva

Information: Admission is $5, and concessions will be available along with commemorative shirts and silent auction items. All proceeds benefit the Hahn, Kassinger and Willis families.

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