PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – In a competitive event, winning is imperative to a program’s success, as a win here or there can mean the difference between a postseason berth or a losing record.
When it comes down to the game of life, however, the annual Robert N. Appell II Kick for Crohn’s games that are played every September show that the trials and tribulations that the common person faces in life takes far more precedence than any game could ever prove to show.
The inspiration of the event comes from the father of women’s head coach Rob Appell, whose namesake is donned on the event’s title. Appell II died on December 26, 2008 after fighting a valiant four-decade battle with Crohn’s Disease, which is a chronic and ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract.
“Ryan (Appell) and I started this event back in 2010 to really honor his memory,” Appell said. “He’s the one who really started us off in soccer when we were four and five years old. He was our coach growing up in everything. He’s the reason that we were successful in high school, college, and in our careers today. We really just wanted to do something and get involved to try to create more awareness about Crohn’s.”
Crohn’s Disease is marked by an abnormal response by the body’s immune system. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, researchers believe that the immune system makes microbes for foreign and or invading substances and launches an attack. In the process, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation. These cells then generate harmful products that ultimately lead to ulcerations and bowel injury.
Even though Crohn’s has been a known medical condition for many decades – with family members, friends, students, and colleagues contracting the disease – the quest for a cure to Crohn’s still remains despite gigantic medical advances in technology over the past two decades.
On Saturday, the men’s and women’s soccer programs used their own drive and initiative to raise more than 1,000 dollars over the day’s events – easily the most in the six-year history of the event – toward fighting the aforementioned disease. With that being said, there was no question that the elder Appell was looking down with pride at what was taking place on the pitch.
After starting a family with his wife Terry, Bob (as he was known by most) encouraged his two sons to play sports, with each going on to play at Shawnee State University for four years under Ron Goodson.
Their overall success also tells a story into the type of character and hard work that Bob instilled in each, as Rob set the single-season mark in 2001 with 209 saves and the career mark with 459 saves from 2000-2003 (with both records still standing to this day) and Ryan accumulating five goals and five assists for a total of 15 points over a career that spanned from 2005-2008.
Over those eight years, Bob showed the love and commitment that he had for his sons by missing just a handful of soccer games over an eight-year span while he was hospitalized. His final Shawnee State soccer game came on November 1, 2008, when Ryan played his final game in a Bear uniform.
“The only games that he ever missed during both of our careers were when he was in the hospital,” Appell said. “He had been released a couple of times just to go to our games when he said he was well enough, even though he probably wasn’t.”
However, the Appell family is not the only family that has been affected by the disease in the local community. On Saturday afternoon, 17-year old Skyler Blair, a Portsmouth native stood next to team captain Tasha Wilson at midfield as the honorary captain for the women. Blair was diagnosed with Crohn’s one year ago and is currently fighting the battle.
In addition to Blair, the men’s soccer team also has one of its own fighting the disease, as forward Andrew Zabrieszack was diagnosed with Crohn’s during the spring semester, forcing the Kentucky native to sit out practices and scrimmages over the spring due to his illness.
Despite the setback, Zabrieszack’s hard work, along with thoughts and prayers from his family, friends, and teammates saw the junior through as Zabrieszack rejoined the team for the fall semester.
Appell credits Blair and Zabrieszack, along with last year’s honorary captain, Madison Issac, for having the courage and strength to fight the disease.
“We’re talking about teenagers, junior high, high school and college-aged people, and when you see what they have to go through with this disease on a daily basis, let alone all of the other obstacles and challenges that they have to get through, they’re a lot stronger than people know,” Appell said. “These kids are battling everyday with things that are going on inside their bodies with which they do not have a lot of control over and having to take in medication or treatment for hours at a time. The fact that these individuals are able to deal with these obstacles says a lot about their character, their personality, and their perseverance. I don’t know how they do it. Sitting down and talking with each of them makes you want to do everything that you can to not only help them, but all of the individuals that we don’t get that opportunity to talk to.”
It’s that significance to others that has Appell extremely pleased with how much money was raised for Kick for Crohn’s.
“This year was a huge success,” Appell said. “Financially, it’s the most we’ve ever raised. I was hoping that we would get over $500. To more than double that total is hard to put into words. It’s overwhelming.”
As a whole, Goodson completely concurred with Appell on the overall success that was Kick for Crohn’s.
“I think the day was a huge success,” Goodson said. “We brought awareness to Crohn’s Disease, raised money for the cause, and made two individuals feel very special. Rob’s father was a big supporter of the soccer programs at SSU, and this is a great way to honor him, while also bringing attention to Crohn’s disease. I think it was a great idea honoring Skyler; this is something that was started last year, and hopefully we can continue honoring a local youth with this disease. I know Andrew was very touched as were his family and friends in attendance. I received several compliments on how well the day went, and thanks from many of those who attended Saturday’s festivities.”