HOBART — Matt Hylek’s kicks are worth more than just points this season.
Hobart’s senior kicker has dedicated his final prep campaign and his right leg to raising money for cancer. His goal was to collect at least $500 in donations, but as the Brickies continue their strong year, he has already eclipsed that total.
The pledge fund — which is in partnership with Kick-It Champions and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer — has risen above $650, and Hylek hopes it continues to increase. After watching his grandfather Chester “Chet” Walther be diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer and beat it, Hylek wants to help other families have access to the same treatment that saved his loved one.
“I’m really close with my grandpa, and he comes out to every single game on Friday night,” Hylek said. “He fought for that, and I see him all of the time. I help him mow his grass and stuff, and he’s a good guy. He just turned 80 years old on Father’s Day.”
During a Kohl’s kicking camp in Chicago over the summer, Hylek was inspired to join the cause by Rachel Simpson, public relations specialist for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Following their conversation, Hylek told his mother to sign him up because it was a good cause and an easy way to make his senior season more meaningful.
Through 11 games, Hylek has converted 4 of 6 field-goal attempts and 51 of 53 extra-point attempts. His best performance came in a Week 5 road victory over Andrean. The senior made two field goals and three extra point points in the 33-10 conference win, which eventually helped Hobart claim its first outright Northwest Crossroads Conference title in school history.
Brickies coach Craig Osika thinks Hylek is an invaluable asset to the team because he also shines on kickoffs and punts — often lengthening the field for opposing offenses. But aside from what the senior does on the field, Osika said Hylek’s pledge is a testament to his maturity and heart.
“If you would have told me two years ago that he was going to do this, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Osika said. “But Matt has grown up tremendously, and he’s turned into a really good young man. He’s the type of kid we want in our program, and I’m proud of him and happy that he’s thinking of other people than just himself. That speaks volumes about who our kids are and what they do.”
As one of several high school kickers across the country committing their seasons to fighting childhood cancer, Christie Fischer, Kick-It Champions coordinator for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, made it clear that Hylek’s contributions matter.
Since Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation was founded in 2005, the pediatric cancer charity has raised “over $150 million and funded nearly 1,000 research grants,” according to the organization’s website. Additionally, Kick-It Champions has also provided significant assistance.
“Even the smallest donations add up to big change. In fact, $50 funds one hour of research,” Fischer wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “Collectively, the Kick-It Champion program has raised more than $1 million for better, less toxic treatments and cures for childhood cancer since its start in 2012.”
The Brickies will try to keep their season alive against Lowell on Friday in the Class 4A Sectional 17 championship. Hobart hasn’t won a sectional crown in three years. But with his grandpa sitting in the Brickyard stands, Hylek believes he can help his team bring home some hardware, while also leaving an impact beyond the box score.
“Whenever I miss, people don’t come down on me or get mad at me,” Hylek said. “They’re just like, ‘I believe in you, Matt.’ DJ Lipke even calls me the ‘Golden Ticket.’ He told me, ‘You’re going to be the golden ticket of this postseason.’”