The girls’ softball team had an extra incentive to score runs this year: With every run they scored, the Lady Lions raised more money for a Roselle-based cancer support organization called Phil’s Friends.
At their end of the year banquet, its founder and two-time cancer survivor, Phil Zielke, was on hand to accept their check for $2,254 and share his inspirational story with players and their families.
“For most of us this was the best part of the service project,” says Cecilia Kaiser ’19, co-captain, “because we could see how our hard work would affect others.”
Before the season even opened, Cece and her co-captain, Maggie VanValkenberg ’19, met with Coach Scotillo to discuss weaving in a service project during the season.
“Phil’s Friends’ mission hit especially close to home,” Cece says. “I’ve known people who have beaten cancer, and I know how much strength they possess. I also know how difficult it is when they try to go through it alone. Phil’s Friends ensures that no one battles cancer alone.”
Zielke was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2004 and it returned in 2005. He endured many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation as well as a stem cell transplant before finally beating it. In looking back on his journey, Zielke points to the care packages, encouraging cards, and the outpouring of prayers that helped him make it.
He started the organization to bring hope to other cancer patients, through those same types of tangible efforts. In 2009, Zielke left his teaching career to devote himself full time to the organization. Within months, he opened Phil’s Friends Hope Center in Roselle.
The Lady Lions drew pledges for every run they scored, with the hopes of enabling more cancer patients to received care packages, cards, and prayers.
“On days where we played a tough team and didn’t score any runs, supporting Phil’s Friends was a driving force for us to work harder,” Cece says. “On the day we scored 12 runs, Coach Scotillo said that Phil’s Friends would be happy about our successful day.”
At the end of the season, the players realized they had come together more as a team while working for the charity.