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updated: 10/1/2012 9:50 PM

Volunteering at Marklund a win-win for area athletes

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  • St. Charles North senior volleyball player Alex Busch, pictured with Marklund client J.D., helped organize a team-bonding trip two years ago.

    St. Charles North senior volleyball player Alex Busch, pictured with Marklund client J.D., helped organize a team-bonding trip two years ago.
    Photos Courtesy of Dawn Brueske

  • Kaneland boys cross country coach Chad Clarey and a team member paint the nails of a Marklund client during a recent visit.

    Kaneland boys cross country coach Chad Clarey and a team member paint the nails of a Marklund client during a recent visit.
    Photos Courtesy of Dawn Brueske


A huge sports fan myself, I'll admit there are times when I can get emotionally charged while watching one of my favorite teams play -- just ask my wife.

The come-from-behind victories have a way of making me feel better about things and help provide a short-term escape from life's difficult times.

The last-second losses, meanwhile, can interrupt my sleep patterns.

One of those "sleepless in St. Charles" type nights occurred just last week after watching my beloved Green Bay Packers suffer a mind-numbing, referee-aided loss to the Seattle Seahawks on the game's final play.

While covering high school games for the Daily Herald, I often see the thrill of victory and agony of defeat etched on the faces of coaches and players alike afterward.

Every win is celebrated.

Every loss is magnified.

But there are plenty of things far more important than wins and losses.

Giving back to the community is one of them.

In today's society filled with "me-first" thinkers, it was heartwarming to watch the faces of all involved as St. Charles North's girls volleyball team spent a recent September afternoon volunteering their services at Marklund in Geneva.

Founded in 1954, Marklund serves infants, children, and adults with severe and profound disabilities through 24-hour nursing care, and a full range of therapeutic and educational programs.

The North Stars' first visit to Marklund a year ago came at the suggestion of then-junior Alex Busch.

"I volunteered here all last year," Busch said of Marklund. "When we were looking for some kind of team-bonding thing to do last year, I asked Coach (Lindsey) Hawkins about going to Marklund.

"We looked into it and Cathy (Nikrandt -- Volunteer Manager at Marklund) helped us get it all set up, and we decided to come back this year."

Hawkins, who was a multisport athlete herself at St. Charles East (her maiden name is Linkimer) understands the significance of community service projects.

"Coach Hawkins tries to instill the philosophy of not only being a volleyball player but also being a young woman -- and I think that's great," said assistant coach Doug Foster, who accompanied the team's Marklund trip while Hawkins was on maternity leave.

Taking advantage of beautiful weather, St. Charles North players and coaches spent part of the afternoon playing baseball with Marklund clients/residents at the Miracle League Field, a rubber-surfaced field designed specifically for those in wheelchairs, which was built on the grounds of the campus.

Half of the team members pushed clients around the bases in their wheelchairs while the other half helped clients in the field.

I'm not sure what the final score was, or for that matter, if anyone cared.

On this day, everyone was a winner.

"This is awesome," said North Stars senior setter Sydney Wohlert. "It's a great experience knowing we're making an impact on them and providing a game for them."

"It's cool to see everyone having such a good time," said sophomore Frankie Neari, a first-year varsity player. "It's very eye-opening for me, and I'm very grateful."

"It's really nice as a team to come out here and serve our community," said Busch. "I think it's a big thing that athletes kind of miss out on because they're so focused on their sport. Really, it's about giving back to the community for what they've given you.

"It's also a great team bonding experience. It makes you appreciate everything that we have as athletes and in our everyday lives."

Sometimes during these volunteer visits, athletes may be taken away from their comfort zone of playing sports.

Earlier this year, Kaneland's boys cross country team and its coach, Chad Clarey, made its third annual trip to Marklund and spent part of the day painting the fingernails of the female clients/residents.

"They had a great time," said Nikrandt. "I'm sure most of them had never painted nails before. As their coach (Clarey) termed it, 'it's always going the extra little mile.'

"They start thinking about others besides themselves. It is an eye opener."

They also learn that not all of Marklund's clients/residents were born with their disabilities.

"There have been a lot of car accidents with students injured out toward Kaneland in recent years," said Nikrandt. "It can happen to anyone. By the grace of God, it's not us."

According to Nikrandt, other local teams/clubs that have made recent trips to Marklund include Geneva's lacrosse team, Kaneland's girls basketball team, and the Batavia psychology club.

The visits are more than a welcome sight to the Marklund clients/residents.

"Just to have all of the people around doing the activity and excitement going on, it brings life to them," said Nikrandt. "Spending quality time -- it's worth a million dollars to them."

It's definitely a win-win situation for all.

"It goes with our vision of providing 'an everyday life' experience for the residents of Marklund," added Nikrandt.

As for the athletes, there are life's lessons to be learned.

"I love coming here because it puts things into perspective," said Wohlert. "We think we have a hard time during volleyball if we're not playing or you think you had a rough day at school, and then you come here and you're just so honored to be a part of this."

"I think it gives them a really good perspective on life," Foster said of his team members. "Let's be honest, St. Charles is a really affluent suburb. They don't have much to ask for. They come away from it really happy about themselves -- it makes them feel good."

Two weeks ago, the North Stars returned the favor as 5 Marklund clients (Clint, Dawn, Jimmy, T.C., and Jeanette) attended St. Charles North's home match against Geneva.

"They all received T-shirts and a volleyball signed by the players," said Nikrandt. "Clint carried that ball around all week."

That's better than any win or loss that I can think of.

"Since I'm a senior, I hope that next year the tradition continues because I think it's really good for the girls and for the clients," said Busch.

You can reach Craig Brueske at

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