Zeeland East’s season-long opponent: Cancer

Football Frenzy

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — This season, the Zeeland East Chix football team is battling both on and off the gridiron.

With two players’ fathers fighting cancer, the community is uniting to support them.

“Football is a family. We’ve always considered Chix nation to be one big family. So we’ve tried to get behind those families and support them,” varsity head coach Derek Pennington said.

Scott Bellis is a father of six. His son Zach is a junior on the football team. Fighting prostate cancer, Bellis’ name has a place on a ribbon sticker that all the football players are wearing on their helmets.

zeeland east football practice
Zeeland East football players at practice on Oct. 15, 2019.

Another name on that sticker is Keur.

“It’s in my lymph nodes. It’s a blood cancer,” eighth grade football coach Marty Keur explained.

Just two months ago Keur, a father of two, was a CrossFit-strong 225 pounds and spending all his free time coaching youth sports. Now, his biggest adversary is large B-cell lymphoma.

“This is one of those life experiences where you reevaluate some of the things in your life. What was important, what shouldn’t be important, what’s important now? And you put emphasize on that,” Keur said.

Battles like these hit families and communities hard. And when you’re working for the win, you need to take it slow.

“I have a motto that I picked up from coach Pennington. That’s ‘win the day.’ So that’s how I live,” Keur said. “I’m not wasting that opportunity to improve as a husband, a dad, a coach, as a friend. I worry about today. I don’t worry about tomorrow or the next day and if I win today, it was a good day.”

Pennington knows how precious the days are. His last name is on the ribbon sticker, too, in honor of his father.

Garry Pennington was a former football player, coach and his son’s biggest supporter. Lymphoma was his final opponent. He died in April.

“I bet I’ve coached 150 football games and he was probably at a 140 some of them so. It’s different and I miss him,” Derek Pennington said.

Next week, when the Chix host Unity Christian, they will trade in their brown and gold for purple as they play for Bellis, Keur and Garry Pennington. The game will benefit Shields of Hope, an Ottawa County nonprofit supporting families dealing with cancer.

“It’ll be more than a football game, that’s for sure,” Pennington said.

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