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Article updated: 8/3/2011 11:23 AM
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Libertyville coach's cancer diagnosis inspires benefit
 

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Libertyville coach's cancer diagnosis inspires benefit
  • Sean Milbourne, 20, of Libertyville prepares to fling the dodgeball at a foe.

    Purchase Photo | Sean Milbourne, 20, of Libertyville prepares to fling the dodgeball at a foe. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Brett O'Conner, 21, of Libertyville gives his former coach Randy Kuceyeski a big hug at the charity dodgeball game, to raise money for his throat cancer treatments. At left is Chris Jungmann, 20; at right is Sean Milbourne, 20, all former Libertyville High School graduates who organized the event.

    Purchase Photo | Brett O'Conner, 21, of Libertyville gives his former coach Randy Kuceyeski a big hug at the charity dodgeball game, to raise money for his throat cancer treatments. At left is Chris Jungmann, 20; at right is Sean Milbourne, 20, all former Libertyville High School graduates who organized the event. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 

Nearly 100 students and alumni from Libertyville High School got to act like little kids again on Saturday, but for a good cause.

Teams of students signed up to play Pingoal, a variation on dodgeball, during a tournament at Oak Grove Junior High to raise money in support of the Libertyville High School head football coach who is battling throat cancer.

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The event was organized by Sean Milbourne and Chris Jungmann, juniors at Indiana University, and Brett O'Connor, who attends Illinois State University. The three students all graduated from Libertyville in 2009.

Though the boys weren't on the football team, they knew Coach Randy Kuceyeski as a gym teacher and role model around the school, where he has been a teacher and coach for more than 30 years.

"So many people just stop in his office to talk," Milbourne said. "We wanted to do something to help him out and have some fun."

When word of Kuceyeski's diagnosis first spread in late May, Milbourne said he, like many others in the community instantly wanted to help.

On Saturday, as current and former students came out to honor him, the celebration stopped for a round of applause when Kuceyeski entered the gym wearing a black and orange bandanna, the school's colors.

The game, a variation on dodgeball, was one that the boys started playing as students at Oak Grove Elementary.

Mark Clement, former Oak Grove School principal who is now assistant superintendent of Oak Grove District 68, played football for Kuceyeski from 1980-1982.

"This just tells you everything you need to know about Kuz," Clement said, meaning the big turnout at Saturday's event. "He means so much to these schools and this town. He's really a class act guy."

Organizers hoped to raise at least $1,000 and planned to donate 100 percent of their proceeds to the American Cancer Society.

The boys asked for -- and got -- donations of food and gift cards from several Libertyville businesses, including Austin's, Rocky Mountain Chocolate, Trattoria Pomigliano, Fodraks, Tommy's and Mickey Finn's Brewery.

They said every business was thrilled to help as soon as they heard that it was for Kuceyeski.

Kuceyeski recently finished the first half of his treatment, and this week will begin the next, a 10-week regimen that will have him spending several days in the hospital for radiation and chemotherapy, followed by several days at home.

"I can't describe the support that has come in so many different ways," said Kuceyeski, who said he and his wife have been overwhelmed by the response from the community, with people doing everything from bringing over meals to mowing their lawn and walking their dogs.

The outpouring of support for Kuceyeski has gone viral with more than 200 comments on his online Caring Bridge site. The coach said he reads those messages and emails of support every night before he goes to bed and they make him feel better.

Kuceyeski has longed planned for the 2011 season to be his last before retirement, so the upcoming start to the season now has all new meaning. The coach has been on the field for as many summer practices as was possible.

Some fans already have high hopes for the season, including Steve Jungmann, father of event organizer Chris Jungmann.

"Wouldn't it be great to see LHS win the whole thing this year, for Coach?" Jungmann said.

Kuceyeski, who led the Libertyville team to a state championship in 2005, plans to take this season literally one game at a time.

"The goal right now is to be at opening night against Barrington (Aug. 26), but I'm planning to be at many more games," Kuceyeski said. "This is going to be a special season."

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