Thursday, June 28, 2018

Learning To Survive The Grace Cup

Two weeks ago I decided that the fourth annual Grace Cup would be the last.

I was dreading the stress of the day, which included worrying whether or not I would have enough players to host not just one, but two soccer games. When the success or failure of an event that is so close to your heart lives or dies on the whims and social schedule of 17 and 18 year-old kids, it can be a tad worrisome.

2018 Grace Cup Boys and Girls Teams
In the few days before the games, which brought together some of the best small school soccer players from our area, I had made peace with the fact that we would have to do 7-on-7 for the inaugural girls game and that I'd have to reshuffle the boys' line-ups due to last minute dropouts, but now I had the weather to worry about. All week long, it looked as if Mother Nature might let loose with the water works right about the time that the games were in full swing.

As it turns out, all that stress was for nothing. I have no better chance in controlling the actions of teenagers than I do in controlling the weather patterns that seem to change from minute to minute in central Illinois.

2018 Lincolnwood Alumni Game
Brothers - and goalies in the Alumni Game
 What I do have control over is my ability to surround myself with good people who make the Grace Cup a success, not just monetarily, but also in terms of raising awareness for infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy (INAD) in honor of my daughter Grace, who is battling the disease.

While I was stressing out about how many players we would have and what those players and their families would think if the game wasn't up to par, others were working to make the game a success behind the scenes.

Charley playing soccer with her cousins.
Herschelman cousins at the Grace Cup
 Lincolnwood soccer coach Joe Webb, his wife Ashley (Young) and other members of the Webb and Young families made sure that the field and concession stand were ready to go, a process that I wouldn't have the first clue about.

Travis Matthews, one of my closest friends since I could walk, took care of game balls, referees and inviting some special guests, some of his youngest players from Impact FC, who walked out with the big kids. The looks on the faces of the younger players reminded me why I wanted to do the Grace Cup in the first place, to grow the game of soccer, in addition to raising awareness for INAD.

Daddy and his girls before the game.
There are plenty of others who helped out too: Aaron Webb, Kyra Shull, Charles Babcock, Kenny Lauderdale and Berry Lauderdale, who all helped out with the scoreboard, braving biting insects and errant soccer balls during the process; Renee Wynn at Creative Flair for getting the shirts done despite my tardiness in getting her the final numbers; Dave Mattson, Brent Stuckey and Ryan Webb, who handled coaching duties along with Travis, making sure that everyone felt like they got as much out of the experience as possible; and the Beeler and Helgen girls, who acted as a welcoming committee and handed out rosters to the public.

I'm sure there are others who played a role that I'm forgetting, for which I'm sorry, but no one helped more than my beautiful wife Mary. In spite of her more than valid concern over my mental health when I said I wanted to add a girls game to the mix, I didn't hear one "I told you so," when I had my greatest struggles.

Galer/McLaughlin Clan at the Grace Cup
Herschelman Family at the Grace Cup
 Without the aforementioned people, the day of the game would not go as well as it does. Without Mary, it wouldn't happen at all.

Even with all of my crazy the past few weeks, she has encouraged me to not give up on the Grace Cup. She has reminded me that it's always better once its over and that the impact on the players and their families is what matters.

And she's right. Even if only a few of those kids were moved by Grace's story, it's worthwhile. This year we had two former Grace Cup players officiate the game, Brendan Zeller and Steven Cowles (along with Steven's brother Joe), while Kenny Lauderdale and Aaron Webb have also played.

Fun family photo together at the Grace Cup
It's always neat to see players from previous years follow us on Facebook or on Twitter. That's one person that may never have heard about INAD before that feels at least a small connection with our story.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this year won't be the last Grace Cup. I know that there is a pretty good chance I'll be pulling my hair out next June, hoping that the players show up and that the weather stays dry, but I also know that anything I go through is way easier than what Grace has to go through every day.

Thanks to everyone who supports us on our journey and we'll see you next year at the Grace Cup on June 8.


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