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Johnson: I-8 Coaches vs. Cancer night proves to be ultimate winner

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

COAL CITY – Last Friday, Seneca defeated Coal City, 56-39, reversing a previous tournament result and keeping the Fighting Irish unbeaten in Interstate Eight Conference regular-season boys basketball this season.

It was a huge game in the I-8 race. The Irish not only stayed a half-game ahead of Reed-Custer (they’ve since gotten 1 ½ games ahead of Reed-Custer), but they also dealt a huge blow to the I-8 tournament champs’ chances of catching and overtaking them. Coal City fell to 4-2 in conference play, leaving the Coalers 2 ½ games behind the Irish.

The win certainly was important to Seneca coach Russell Witte. What Witte said is of greater importance was the money raised in conjunction with the game for the American Cancer Society. Like every I-8 game played that night, the one between the Coalers and Irish was a Coaches vs. Cancer event.

“Tonight was just a game. Two teams played hard. First place kind of on the line in the conference. We get the upper hand,” Witte said, “but what these kids for both Coal City and Seneca do off the court in raising the money, selling the shirts, that’s the biggest win for the conference. That’s the biggest win for everybody.”

The I-8 has been doing Coaches vs. Cancer nights for several years, and for the past couple, they’ve coincided with a “rivalry night” across the conference. Coal City plays Seneca, Reed-Custer plays Wilmington, Manteno plays Peotone, Dwight plays Herscher, Lisle plays Westmont and Plano plays Sandwich.

T-shirts are sold at every game, with proceeds going to the ACS. The ACS also receives at least half of the 50-50 raffles held at the games. At Coal City on Friday, it got the whole kit and caboodle when public address announcer Don Phillips, whose number was drawn, donated his winnings to the ACS.

The I-8 raised at least $7,000, Witte said, through its Coaches vs. Cancer nights this year. He said close to $35,000 has been raised the past four years.

Raising money wasn’t the only purpose of Friday’s event in Coal City. Before the game, Dennis Punke of Mazon and Delores Martis of Coal City were introduced and given standing ovations. Both have battled cancer. Punke is the grandfather of Seneca player Scott Anderson, and Martis – described as an avid fan of Coaler sports – is the grandmother of Coal City girls basketball player Emily Halliday.

“Coal City speaking, the ceremony was probably the highlight of the night because the game wasn’t very good for us,” Coal City coach Brad Boresi said. “No, it’s a great thing, and I know Russ does a wonderful job of organizing it, and we did our part this year to try and raise some extra funds for it. We had a nice crowd, like I said, a real nice ceremony before the game, and unfortunately the game couldn’t have been better.”

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