Youth sports isn't just all about development of potential and building teamwork and dealing with the occasional out-of-control parent.
No, it's more often than not about the relationships. Relationships within families and relationships within and without the greater youth sports community.
You could see that in the outpouring of support for Chris Graesing that was made apparent at Krueger's Entertainment Center in the Falls on Saturday.
It was put together by Graesing's brother-in-law, Bob Dekoning, and succeeded in raising more than $10,000 to help with medical bills and family expenses. Graesing, a technician at Jack Safro Toyota and a coach in the Junior Indians Baseball program, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. His insurance was sound but the treatment is long and arduous and of course, very expensive.
It'll be almost two years before he's done with it and because of the intensity of treatment, he will be out of work for close to a year. He's already been out since Jan. 29.
'The way they've explained it to me,' Graesing said, 'is that they've scared the kids (the remaining cancer cells) into hiding. Now they have to go find the kids.'
Graesing said that Jack Safro has been excellent. They held a fundraiser for him too and more importantly, they're holding his job, but as noted, the bills are still mounting.
His prognosis is good ('Right now, they say I have no leukemia in my body,' Graesing said) and his outlook even better.
'I'm going to stay upbeat,' he said. 'I'm not going to let this stuff beat my butt.'
Calling in favors
Enter Graesing's brother-in-law, Dekoning. Dekoning, a former athlete himself at Falls North in the mid-1970s and father of former Falls' NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year, WBCA all-stater and UW-Milwaukee star Doug Dekoning (who was out there circulating and selling tickets), is well connected in the local sports community and of course wanted to help. His sister, Mary, is Graesing's wife.
Still, Dekoning was concerned whether he could pull this off.
'As soon as I found out that Chris had Leukemia I knew I had to do something to help him and his family,' Dekoning said. 'I have to be honest, I have never taken on such a big and serious event like this. To say I was nervous and scared was an understatement. Failing to help or failing to raise money was not an option. It had to be a success!'
To that end, Dekoning called in a lot of favors and he was stunned by the response. Krueger's owner, Dave Krueger, and his staff donated their party room and provided food (People bought $25 tickets for all the food and beverages they could eat and drink for the event that ran from 5 to 11 p.m.).
Also, all kinds of organizations sports-related and not put together gift baskets that could be bid on, including Harvey Kuehn Jr., and the Milwaukee Brewers; coaches Scott Doffek and Cory Bigler and the UW-Milwaukee baseball program; the Junior Indians football, baseball and cheerleading programs; the Menomonee Falls Panthers' youth baseball team, coach Pat Hansen and the Menomonee Falls baseball team and many others.
The baskets were coordinated by Sarah Ollinger, Karin Habbegger and Tami Kiesling and area youth sports advocate Bill Howard (who coaches with Graesing) served as master of ceremonies.
Digging deep to help
A spiritual man, Dekoning believed that God helped him touch the minds and hearts of people for this worthy cause. He also believed it showed the heart of the people of Menomonee Falls.
'I always knew that the folks of Menomonee Falls were good but this amazed me to the point I had to take a step back and watch in awe,' he said. 'It was a very touching and moving moment for me. I believe it is the Marines have a motto 'No man left behind' and this is just what the village of Menomonee Falls people did. They rallied around one of there own and made sure he was not a left behind man. The support, care and love that was poured out in these tough economic times was breathtaking.
'It would have been easy because of the tough times to say 'Sorry, I can't help, I don't have any extra.' That didn't happen, people found a way to get involved and sacrificed of there own needs to come to Chris's aid.'
Graesing did his best to thank almost everyone that he could at the event. Because of the heavy chemotherapy treatment he is undergoing, his stamina is not what it should be. He admitted he stayed too long at the Safro fundraiser and was wiped out almost the entire next day, and so tried to be more careful this time around.
'I love something like this,' he said. 'I enjoy talking to people.' He laughed as he admitted that his house got a little full in the weeks before the event with all of the gift baskets that were to be raffled off.
'But so many people have been so helpful,' he said. 'They and my family (including daughter, Allison, 17, and son, Ryan, 13) have been amazing. And I'm going to get out there again soon (helping with his son's baseball team). I'll do what I can. Whenever I'm down in the dumps, I'll think of them and everyone else who has helped me.'
All funds will go into a special Chase Bank account in Graesing's name. People can still donate by making out checks to the Chris Graesing Leukemia Fund and sending the envelopes in care of Bob Dekoning, W185, N8992 St. James. Drive, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051.