The folks from in and around the Wisconsin community of Waupun will gather at their new Waupun Baseball Complex on Saturday to enjoy each other's company, tell some stories and either play in, or just enjoy, a 36-team kickball tournament.
The reason for the gathering is an event called "Kickin' for Kevin", a benefit for Waupun High School and PG Wisconsin Fall League head baseball coach Kevin DeBoer. DeBoer, 44-years-old, was recently diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, the second time in his life he has had to confront a form of cancer.
The prognosis isn't good, but DeBoer is going forward with chemotherapy treatments which he described to the Beaver Dam (Wis.) Daily Citizen in an article published online Oct. 13 as "a whole new set of crappy." And it remains difficult to stay upbeat.
"When you get brought into a doctor's office after a bunch of tests and they pretty much tell you that there really isn't much they can do ..." DeBoer, his voice trailing off, said in a telephone interview with Perfect Game on Thursday.
"There's not a cure; they can't take it away," he continued. "What they're basically doing is trying to extend my life, is what it comes down to. When a doctor tells you that this is what's going to take your life someday, it's an eye-opener, obviously, and it takes awhile to get use to."
The $2.6 million Waupun Baseball Complex is the pride of Waupun, a city of about 11,300 baseball crazy folks located about 60 miles east of Madison, Wis., and 70 miles west of Milwaukee.
The complex features three little league fields that are miniature replicas of Thompson Field, the Waupun High School field that also sits on the property. All four fields are complete with FieldTurf infields and rolled Kentucky Bluegrass outfields. There are also four batting cages and a full-service concession stand known for its Friday night fish-fries served-up during the busy summer Little League season.
"It's not uncommon to go down there during the week on any given night and see, between the three (Little League) fields, 200 to 250 people sitting there," DeBoer said.
DeBoer's first go-around with cancer -- in that case Hodgkin's Disease -- came when he was still a student and standout baseball player at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. He underwent radiation treatment to beat back the disease that time, but according to the report in the Daily Citizen, that treatment caused him "significant health problems after the fact."
He experienced a heart attack at age 35 and has had pneumonia "close to a half-dozen times in the last six years", according to the Daily Citizen article.
The first encounter with cancer didn't keep him from returning home after he earned his degree at Carthage College to get on with his life. DeBoer got hired at his high school alma mater, coached the Waupun High JV team his first couple of years back and was bumped up to the head varsity position in his third year. He has been with his hometown school district for 18 years.
"I grew up in this community and went away to college and played baseball in college, and then came back and I've coached in the community," DeBoer told PG. "When I got back they had an opening ... and I was hired right out college."
DeBoer said he first got involved with Perfect Game when his son, Colin -- now a senior at Waupun High School -- was in eighth grade. Colin and one of his close friends, Jordan Daane, were looking to play as much baseball as the weather in Wisconsin allows, and the PG Wisconsin Fall League was a perfect fit.
"We decided to take our two kids who were eighth-graders down to Milwaukee and enroll them (in the league)," DeBoer recalled. "They went through the tryouts and (PG officials) put them right up with varsity teams right away. It's been just a great experience for not only our kids, but for the kids in our (Waupun HS) program because we've had numerous other kids go down there since then."
Colin DeBoer played four PG Wisconsin Fall League seasons and also participated at four PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, four times, all since 2008 (most recently in September). Daane also played four PG Wisconsin Fall League seasons and was at September's Kernels Foundation Championship, although not on the same team as DeBoer.
Kevin DeBoer said since he got his Waupun players involved with the PG Fall League -- DeBoer coached several teams in the league and helped it expand up into the northern part of the state -- the school has won seven straight Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association regional championships, has been WIAA sectional champions three times and won a state championship in 2007.
He called the Waupun Little League program is one of the "top five" in the state of Wisconsin, noting that in a town of 11,000, there are 400 youngsters involved in the Little League program. DeBoer is a past president of the Little League association, and he said the kids play from the age of 5 until they approach 14, and then join the city's Junior Legion team and the senior Legion team after that.
They'll be playing kickball at the Waupun Baseball Complex on Saturday, but everyone's thoughts and prayers will be with their high school baseball coach. Through all his health issues, the game has always been very important to Kevin DeBoer.
"Even from my Little League days, it's something that has always been in my life," he said.
Donations can be made to the National Bank of Waupun at 920-324-5551 under "Kevin DeBoer Benefit" or to Waupun assistant coach Derrick Standke at 920-979-7579.