A regular season tennis match that is more than just a match is something Marquette coach Alex Nelle and Eureka coach Jason Conley have worked to make happen.
Both Eureka and Marquette can feel good about what they accomplished in their recent dual match. Marquette won 9-0.
But it was more than just another tennis match. Together, the teams raised money for the Siteman Cancer Center.
It’s become a tradition. And more schools are joining in, Nelle said.
“This was the second year that we held the event, but this year 30 other schools joined with us to hold a cancer awareness event,” Nelle said. “Their cancer awareness events were held throughout the season. The boys from both schools were a little more into this year, as both schools learned this year that a staff member in their building had cancer. This brought more of a personal connection to the event.”
The match to help raise funds was a topic at practice when this season began, Nelle said.
“Since this was the second year of the event, we started talking to our parents and players about the event at the beginning of the season,” Nelle said. “Everyone was aware of what we did last year, so that gave us a goal to beat this year. I think any time young people can experience volunteer work and see results from their effort, it is a good life lesson.
“For this event, the result was the amount of money we raised and the happiness we brought to Lisa Nieder, our staff member at Marquette who is battling cancer.”
Marquette sold 142 shirts. Eureka sold another 70 shirts at their school.
There was also was a concession stand at the match this year. There is not one at other regular season matches and the proceeds from the sales went into the mix.
The concession stand was a big hit, Conley said.
“We sold some kettle corn and Chick-fil-A sandwiches to earn more money,” Conley said. “We had the concession stand at a tennis match and we found out people are more willing to spend money knowing it’s going to a good cause.”
A tidy sum was raised.
“Between the shirt sales and our concession stand at the match, we were able to raise a little under $2,500 for cancer research,” Nelle said.
It’s a joint effort between Marquette and Eureka, Nelle said.
“Without the support and efforts of Coach Conley and the Eureka boys tennis program, this event would not be possible,” Nelle said. “The partnership between the two schools and the coaching staff is why the event grows each year and is such a successful event.”
Conley said his Wildcats like taking part in the event with Marquette.
“They get excited about it, playing and have it mean more than just a regular match,” Conley said. “It’s for such a good cause. We know a lot of other teams do types of events [like this]. We wanted to do something ourselves. Alex and I figured we should try something like this and it’s worked.”
And it’s growing.
A total of 31 other schools also got involved this spring.
“To get more schools involved this year, we sent out an email in February to about 60 coaches across the eastern half of the state,” Nelle said. “Most coaches were very supportive of the idea and were happy to join in the effort. We left it up to each program on how they wanted to run their event and what cancer organization they wanted to donate their funds to, so I think that freedom helped to recruit more schools to do an event.
“Every school that joined in the effort was very supportive of the idea and I think through word of mouth, the event will continue to grow over the next few years. We will reach out to more coaches next year and hopefully, within the next few years, we can get every tennis program across the state to do some type of cancer awareness event.”
The other schools taking part were Clayton, Ladue, Parkway West, Francis Howell, Farmington, Poplar Bluff, MICDS, Lafayette, Summit, Webster Groves, Oakville, Vianney, De Smet Jesuit, Timberland, Troy Buchanan, Francis Howell Central, Fort Zumwalt West, Parkway North, Ritenour, Westminster Christian Academy, Hazelwood East, McCluer, Hazelwood Central, SLUH, Francis Howell North, Fort Zumwalt East, McCluer North, Pattonville, Holt and Liberty.
The Marquette and Eureka programs get along well.
“I think there is more of a good working relationship between the two schools than a rivalry,” Nelle said. “Everyone involved with the event understands that the event is bigger than the match, so we focus more on that aspect than who wins and loses the match.
“Before we started the match, I gave a short speech about how the event has grown over the past year and we presented Lisa [Nieder] with a few gifts to recognize her fight against cancer.”
Eureka, too, had a staff member it wanted to help.
“We gave some of our money to a teacher at Eureka who is struggling with cancer,” Conley said. “We did for it her and for Siteman.”
In the win, Nelle said the end result really did not matter much in the big scheme of things this time.
“We played well during the match, but that wasn’t my focus for the day,” Nelle said. “My focus that day was to have a successful event and show our love and support for our Lisa and all cancer survivors.”
Nelle is pleased with the way the Mustangs are playing heading into the postseason.
“We have had a great season so far and have played pretty consistent throughout the season,” Nelle said. “We are currently working on improving a few things that I hope will allow us to make a deep run in the postseason.”
Conley said the Mustangs are good enough to possibly earn a trip to Springfield and play in the state team tournament.
“They’re real strong,” Conley said. “We’ll struggle to get out of the district this year. We’ve improved from last year, but not enough. We’ve gotten better as the season has progressed. I’m happy with this team.”
If anyone still wants to help, they can, Nelle said.
“Unfortunately we don’t sell shirts after the event, but if someone wanted to make a donation to Siteman Cancer Center, they could contact me,” Nelle said.
His email address is email@example.com. Conley’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“On behalf of both coaching staffs, we would just like to thank all the parents and businesses who helped make this such a special event and day,” Nelle said. “Without [that] support, we would not have been able to raise the amount of money that we did, nor do the things that we did during the match with the special grips, wristbands and pink tennis balls.
“A special thank you to Instant Imprints for the T-shirts and design work, Racketman for all the equipment, and World Wide Automotive for designing the banner for Lisa Nieder.”