Playing from the heart, playing for a cure
October 22, 2010 • Patrick Miller, Assistant Sports Editor
Filed under Sports
On Saturday, September 24, the Howell tennis team did an amazing thing for the 30,000 people who are currently suffering from ALS in the United States. They hosted the Play for the Cure tournament, a fundraiser for the Michigan ALS Association.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no known cause or cure and the degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to death of its victims.
Howell Tennis coach Mark Oglesby came up with the idea that the annual Play for the Cure tournament should promote ALS when the father of one of his players, discovered he had gotten the disease. The ALS patient is Mr. Don Barnowski whose son, Nick, plays number one doubles for the tennis team and is a junior at Howell High School.
“The (Play for the Cure) tournament was played for raising breast cancer awareness last year. Once I learned about Don Barnowski’s condition, I asked him if it was okay if we could sponsor ALS for this year’s tournament. He agreed and everyone on the team did a great job supporting it,” coach Ogesbly said.
Hartland, Howell, Saginaw Heritage and Wayne were the four teams that participated in the tourney, with Hartland taking the title and Howell earning the runner-up honor. The tournament ended up being very successful accumulating almost $3,100 for the ALS Association (ALSA), surpassing the original goal of $2,000.
Mr. Barnowski was very thankful for the team’s support.
“The tournament not only helped by raising money towards finding a cure, but by raising awareness about the disease. It is very humbling and heartwarming that Coach Oglesby and the team chose to fight for a cause that impacts my family directly,” Mr. Barnowski said.
Mr. Barnowski acted as the liaison between the team and the ALSA, helping develop the web page to collect donations on behalf of each school as well as facilitating with on-site work the day of the tournament.
He also had the special job of handing out the medals during the award ceremony, earning the pleasure of giving the gold to his son and teammate, junior Connor Kurtz, for winning the number one double’s flight.
“Nick and Connor carried some extra pressure into this tournament, and I was proud that they were able to step up. Handing that gold to Nick is something that I’ll never forget. In a way, it symbolizes the special bond that we have,” Mr. Barnowski exclaimed.
Don Barnowski has played a huge role in his son’s life.
“He’s always been there for me in everything- hockey, tennis, and school. He is definitely my biggest fan,” Nick Barnowski said. The Barnowskis have been involved in athletics their entire lives. He and his children have both played hockey, baseball, tennis, and golf.
“Sports keep us together, busy and in shape and have given us many great friends. Sports prepare you for life by teaching about fun, competition, respect, teamwork, discipline, rules, practice, pressure, and taking care of yourself,” Mr. Barnowski said.
When Mr. Barnowski first learned that he might have ALS, it was extremely tough. However, the months he waited leading up to the diagnosis were even more difficult since he knew the disease could have been lurking. Since there is no specific test for ALS, Mr. Barnowski was diagnosed when every other possible disease was eliminated.
Mr. Barnowski’s outlook on life has altered only slightly after learning he contracted ALS.
“I’ve never taken life for granted. It (ALS) hasn’t changed my goals as a father, a husband, a son, brother and friend. However, it reinforces the fact that the path to your goals is not a straight line; it isn’t scripted. You need to adapt to the detours and curve balls that life throws at you — just like you constantly make adjustments while competing in sports — and embrace each day as an opportunity to do something positive,” Mr. Barnowski said. His faith and family have given him the strength to keep fighting the disease.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason is a mystery, but I don’t believe that my mission from this is to just quietly lie down. A terminal disease can be dispiriting, but the reality is that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone,” Mr. Barnowski explained.
Don Barnowski wants to continue making the most out of the remainder of his life.
“I’ve been given a unique opportunity to make a positive difference, and I want to make the most of that opportunity. And someday soon, a cure will be found. When that happens, everyone associated with Play for the Cure can look back and feel proud they played a part,” Mr. Barnowski stated.