By Sue Botos
Once again, Rocky River High School football kicker Matt Goepfert is giving childhood cancer the boot.
For the second time, the senior is participating in the “Kicker’s Challenge,” an offshoot of the “Kick-It” program, which raises awareness and funding for children’s cancer research. For every field goal or extra point scored by Goepfert, supporters can pledge a dollar amount throughout the football season or make an online donation. Then at the end of the season, the total amount will be donated.
“I thought it was a great opportunity. It’s so simple. I’m playing my sport and raising money for a terrific cause. Plus, it’s good for the whole team,” Goepfert recently commented. He estimated that he scored just under 70 points last year.
Last season, Kick-It Director Kathy Welsch contacted school board member Kathy Goepfert and her husband, Tom, to ask if their son was willing to participate in the Kicker’s Challenge. The family and Pirates special teams coach Scott Richardson immediately signed on.
Welsch said that the program has grown substantially since Quinn Clarke, then a 10-year-old cancer survivor from Chagrin Falls, came up with the idea in May 2009. When he and his parents discovered how little research had been done in the field of childhood cancer, Quinn came up with the idea to raise funds to help children like himself with his favorite game, kickball. About 500 people participated in kickball games, ranging from backyard gatherings to school tournaments, raising $5,000 during that initial year.
According to Welsch, the Kicker’s Challenge was the idea, three years ago, of St. Ignatius High School kicker Matt Colella, himself a pediatric cancer survivor. Welsch said that 45 high schools participated last year, and that number grew this season to include 200 in 40 states, plus one Canadian kicker. (Happily, she reported that both Colella, now a college student, and Clarke, a sophomore at Chagrin Falls High School, are cancer-free).
“We’re a grassroots nonprofit. We need kickers like Matt (Goepfert) to bring that awareness,” Welsch said, adding that online participant pages are a new feature this year. Supporters can go to www.kick-it.org, click on “Support an Event or Individual” and enter Goepfert’s name to pledge, or to see how much has been raised so far.
But it’s not just football players who can contribute. “It started with football, but any type of a team can dedicate their season,” Welsch stated. Goepfert took up that challenge as well as a member of the Pirate soccer team, which last season raised $400 during one game when each varsity and junior varsity player donated $10 for an opportunity to wear their alternate blue jerseys for the game.
The Rocky River Superfans, a group of students who stand on risers in the south endzone during home football games, also lent their support at the Oct. 16 contest against Parma. Choosing the theme “White Out,” the Superfans sported T-shirts designed by Kathy Goepfert and teacher Kristin Kalinowski supporting Kick-It. The $10 shirts, sponsored by Westwood Town Center, were also a free ticket for the game.
Welsch added that the program was given a boost this year from a partnership with Kohl’s department stores’ summer camps for high school kickers and punters. She added that she traveled throughout the country, giving talks to participants at the camps, promoting the Kicker’s Challenge.
“I tell them you are here to help show (college) recruiters who you are. This (program) gives them the opportunity to do good, and it’s a great college application booster.”