Touchdown for awareness

By Gus Bode

The Coach Kill Cancer Fund will take an important step toward raising cancer awareness with a touchdown walk at halftime of Saturday’s football game at McAndrew Stadium.

The touchdown walk is part of a campaign, headlined by Saluki head coach Jerry Kill and his wife Rebecca – along with Southern Illinois Healthcare, to provide local families with financial support as they deal with the non-care costs associated with cancer treatments. Kill, 45, had a tumor and part of a kidney removed in a January surgery.

He started the fund when he realized, through conversations with other cancer patients, costs to families of cancer sufferers did not stop at the hospital doors. Kill has listed transportation, child care and lodging expenses as overlooked financial burdens associated with battling the disease. He said he was blessed with a great support system but others were not so lucky.


Kill told his wife they had to do something to help.

“There are a lot of people who suffer from a lot of different things that we don’t understand,” Kill said.

For information on the Coach Kill Cancer Fund, or to donate, contact Paula Frish at Southern Illinois Healthcare at 457-5200 ext. 67013, or donate online.

To date, the Coach Kill Cancer Fund has raised $65,000.

The touchdown walk – which features a general admission ticket to the game, admission to a tailgate tent, refreshments, wristband and T-shirt – sold out by Monday’s deadline. Julie Beck, group sales coordinator for the university, estimated 450 to 500 members of the university, local, sports and religious communities would participate in the event, including 100 participants Kill has met from a youth football league.


Kill said the touchdown walk would bring an added element to the contest between SIU (5-1, 2-1 Gateway) and Western Kentucky (3-3, 2-1).

“We’re going to have two big games that day,” Kill said. “We’re going to play Western Kentucky, and we’re supporting our cancer fund. It will be the two biggest teams that have ever been on that field, I can promise you that.”

The group of walkers will start its trek in the south endzone of the stadium and travel the length of the field as a way to show support for, and increase awareness of, the fund.

Beck said the need for the fund hits close to home for many in southern Illinois.

“This is about awareness,” Beck said. “So many people have had a parent, loved one or friend with cancer. Everyone who did this did it for a reason.”

While the walk was originally more an awareness-raiser than a fundraiser, Beck said the event grew in size and donations from season ticket holders and other Saluki fans flooded her office.

Beck said the outpour of support above the cost of a Touchdown Club package purchase was a pleasant surprise.

“When we first started this, it wasn’t like we asked for money,” Beck said.

Beck estimated “well over $3,000” had been raised as of Tuesday, which included envelopes with $100 donations above the cost of a ticket package.

Woody Thorne, SIH’s director of community benefits, said more than “$65,000 to the fund over the course of a little over two months” had been raised as of Tuesday.

The idea for the awareness and fundraising event was first mentioned at the Salukis’ football fish fry on Aug. 1, and since then Beck said she has been busy fielding requests for tickets and donations.

Mike Trude, the athletic department’s director of promotions and marketing, said the original goal was to simply raise awareness of the fund through the event while offering fans a chance to participate in SIU’s halftime entertainment in a “mini-walk” modeled after similar events nationwide.

While the event grew to its current number of participants, Trude said he was not surprised at the support.

“I think the people of southern Illinois just really, really enjoy coach Kill and would do whatever he asked,” Trude said. “I’m not shocked at all.”

Kill said the reason for the event was simple.

“We’re just trying to help and reach out to the community,” Kill said.