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Examiner
  • Bill Althaus: Jaguars' gesture should inspire us all

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  • When the Blue Springs South swim team heard about Lee's Summit West's Sam Smith, they made a commitment to help a young man who is battling cancer.
    On a front page feature in Saturday's Examiner, the South swim team and head coach Errich Oberlander talk about the impact Smith had on the team that went out and collected items and monetary gifts, including a car, that the 15-year-old can drive when he turns 16.
    How cool is that?
    I mean, how many times have you heard about someone in need and thought to yourself, “I'm going to help that person.”
    Then, a news flash about Miley Cyrus twerking flashes on the TV or the phone rings and you get involved in a conversation about those 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs and the thought simply disappears from your mind.
    “When we first saw Sam,” said South senior swim captain Jack Pluenneke, “he made an impact on us. He was swimming – and, as it turned out, it was the last time he was able to compete because his cancer came back and he needed more treatment – and he was an inspiration.”
    He was so inspiring that South assistant swim coach Andrew Enlow came up with a new team motto: “What's Your Excuse?”
    “None of us come up with excuses now,” Pluenneke said. “It was like, I have to leave practice to use the bathroom, or my pinkie toe cramped and I can't swim. We saw a kid who is battling cancer compete in a swim meet, so we're done with excuses.”
    But they aren't done with following Smith and his family.
    Last Friday, the Jaguars, their coaches and moms of swimmers brought a huge gift basket to the Lee's Summit Aquatic Center and made their presentation to a stunned Smith.
    The look on his face as he walked into the center, following a longer than usual visit with his doctor at Children's Mercy Hospital, was priceless.
    “It was like he was happy, surprised and was wondering why our whole team was at his practice,” Pluenneke said. “It was as cool for us as it was for him.”
    Colleen Gibler, the longtime swim coach at Lee's Summit West, watched the presentation in quiet awe. All day, she had planned on exactly what she wanted to say. But she couldn't.
    The tears washed away those words, and instead of thanking the South team, she gave each of them a warm embrace.
    As she thanked each South swimmer, the West squad clapped and chanted, “BLUE SPRINGS SOUTH! BLUE SPRINGS SOUTH!”
    Page 2 of 2 - Somehow, I was able to maintain my composure, which is tough for a guy who cries at McDonald's commercials, and told Oberlander, Enlow and Pluenneke that what they did was the most amazing gesture of love and respect I'd witnessed in 31 years at The Examiner.
    Last year, my wife Stacy and I tried to do all we could for a little girl who died from a rare form of cancer that affects two to three kids in the United States on a yearly basis, and I know what our small gesture meant to her family.
    What the Jaguars did for a member of the swimming family they compete against, but also love and support, made me realize what a special group of individuals they really are.
    The compassionate Oberlander has made amazing strides with the South swim team, but what he and his squad accomplished outside of the pool makes that success pale in comparison.
    They saw a young man who was in need, and they helped him and his family.
    It sounds so simple.
    Why don't we all try to do a little bit more of it?
    Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or bill.althaus@examiner.net. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC
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