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Laker athletes support Make-A-Wish Foundation

PAY IT FORWARD -- LSSU student trainer Matt McLeod checks basketball player Scott Perkins' blood pressure during sports physicals day. Perkins is a member of the LSSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee which is doing a fund-raiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. McLeod is a cancer survivor who had a wish granted in 2004.

April 23, 2008

SAULT STE. MARIE - There are basketball players who want to be shooting stars, hockey players who leave opponents seeing stars, and Lake Superior State athletes who are selling stars.

Laker athletes have been selling stars for $1 each for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. NCAA Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members from throughout the country raised more than $208,000 for the world's largest wish-granting charity in 2006-07.

Two conferences - the California Collegiate Athletic Association and the Northeast 10 Conference - received donations from the entire membership last year. The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is working toward that goal in 2007-08, and Lake Superior State has been an active Make-A-Wish Foundation supporter for the past two years. LSSU has been among the top three schools in the league in fund-raising for the great cause.

The LSSU SAAC raised $500 last year and has already reached $750 in 2007-08. Every LSSU athlete representing all 13 varsity sports has been asked to sell at least five stars, but several athletes are doing much more.

"There are people who don't have the opportunity to do what we do," said LSSU sophomore Scott Perkins, who is a guard on the men's basketball team and a SAAC member. "They may not have the physical capabilities or may lack the funding. It is definitely a privilege to do what we do, and this is an easy thing to do to help give back to the community. If I volunteer the guys to do something, they give me a hard time, but they do enjoy it once they get going. They all help out when given the opportunity."

"Our main goals in the SAAC this year were community service and giving back," said LSSU women's basketball coach and SAAC advisor Jamie Pewinski. "The athletes made each project a huge success. Once they realized how good it feels to give back and help others, they wanted to keep doing more. We are already looking forward to next year and setting higher goals.

Perkins and senior track athlete Jason Ferguson represented LSSU at a recent GLIAC SAAC meeting and were inspired to continue the University's commitment to community service. LSSU is among the GLIAC leaders in SAAC involvement. This year alone, the LSSU SAAC involved Laker athletes in a talent show, silent auction, "Chains of Love" fund-raiser to bring Christmas to needy families, and youth lock-ins. SAAC committee members have learned that the best way to rally the athletes is to turn a project into a competition.

"We try to be on top and raise the most money," said sophomore guard Shelle Rochon of the LSSU women's basketball team. "We do so much, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to help out, and it means more when it involves the whole team. A lot of Soo people sponsor our team, and we try to give back."

The LSSU cross country and track teams set the fund-raising bar high because of their higher roster numbers.

"I handed out 120 stars and already got 90 back (sold)," LSSU distance runner Katie Scott said. "If we raise the most money, it makes us feel good. Hockey also did well, as they have a lot of people too."

What many LSSU athletes don't realize is that a student they see in the Norris Center every day was a beneficiary of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Junior Matt McLeod of Sault Ste. Marie, who is a student athletic trainer, battled an invasive form of bone cancer when he was in high school. In 2004, the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave him the opportunity to catch a pass from Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. At that time, Favre's wife, Deanna, was also battling breast cancer. McLeod gave Brett Favre a Sault High football t-shirt and the angel medallion he carried in his pocket during his cancer treatments. That guardian angel also accompanied McLeod's uncle during his tour in Iraq. Favre was seen several times on TV wearing the Sault High t-shirt, and McLeod has maintained email correspondence with the Favre family.

"I think he gave the pendant to Deanna," McLeod said. "I think it touched him."

McLeod, who had completed his cancer treatments by the time he made his trip to Green Bay, was accompanied by kids who were in the midst of treatment, including one who was gravely ill.

"(Full-filling the wish) gets their mind off what is going on and lets them be a kid again," McLeod said of the chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity.

Cancer ended McLeod's dream of playing football - he had 10 inches of his right femur and his right kneecap removed - but his involvement in athletes continued. These days, he looks after Laker athletes in the training room and is proud of the role they play in the Sault community.

"Kids look up to people who make it to this level," he said. "Division II athletes and the hockey players are seen in the paper and on the internet. They wear the Lake State anchor. Athletes make a huge difference in their lives."

Lake Superior State Women's Basketball
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