Vikings, Eagles share emotional connection
The Aurora Christian and Geneva football teams have more than an undefeated record and a trip to state in common. Both teams have an assistant coach who is battling cancer.
Geneva assistant Marc Fagot was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April and Eagles assistant Chris Risch has been battling lung cancer. The good news is both coaches are healthy enough to be traveling with their respective teams to Champaign this weekend.
On Friday, Aurora Christian (13-0) will face Bloomington Central Catholic for the Class 4A state title. On Saturday, Geneva (13-0) will take on East St. Louis for the Class 7A title.
Fagot has been with the Vikings for years. A golf outing was held in his honor in early September and he has a son, Drew, a senior fullback on the Vikings.
Geneva's season was not only dedicated to Coach Fagot, but Dustin Villarreal, a player who passed away in May 2006. He would have been a senior this year.
After practice Wednesday, Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said Fagot is doing well and is looking forward to Saturday. Earlier in the season, Fagot said he named his cancer "Otto" and has kept a positive attitude about beating it. He is currently in his second round of chemotherapy.
"Coach is doing great," Wicinski said. "(Wednesday) was one of his better days. The sun was shining and he was able to stay the entire practice. He's in good spirits. He's kept things in perspective and is enjoying the moment so much."
"I'm at practice every day, it's great," Fagot added. "Nothing's changed."
After the Vikings' 25-21 state semifinal win against Crystal Lake South last Saturday, the players spoke about what Coach Fagot has meant to them.
"He's been coaching me since fifth grade," senior Sean Grady said. "He's always been there for us. He's such a great coach. He's been a huge influence on my life in football and everything."
"I give him hugs every day and tell him I love him," senior Trey Hemming added.
While Fagot has been like a father to the Vikings, the 27-year-old Risch has been more like an older brother to the Eagles. He was unable to witness Aurora Christian's 29-20 state semifinal win at Richmond-Burton last Saturday due to the medication he was on.
"It took a toll on him," Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said. "He couldn't be on the sidelines. He was weak. It was tough on the players."
Risch changed his medication and has been with the Eagles all week in practice.
"It's great for the coaches and players," Beebe said. "We love the fact that he's there with us. It means a lot to us."
Winning a state title would be such a positive for both teams who have had to deal with their assistants battling cancer, but Fagot doesn't want it to be about him or his illness. He just wants to see the Vikings succeed after such a great season.
"It really doesn't have anything to do with the illness, but it would be unbelievable," Fagot said. "I don't know if it would be more special, but the cards sure have aligned right for them. We are very fortunate."