LOWELL — A trophy match and helping veterans. What's better than that?
That was the reasoning behind Lowell and Lake Central's decision to start a new boys tennis tradition. The newly christened Battle for the Old Wooden Racket not only adds a bit of flavor to the Lake County match-up, but it's for a good cause.
As part of the match, the teams raised money for Operation Combat BikeSaver, a nonprofit based in Crown Point that provides therapy to veterans through hands-on activity — specifically, fixing up and putting together motorcycles and other vehicles.
On Sept. 11, both teams wanted to find a way to help out local veterans.
“This year's juniors are the first class where none of them were born before 9/11,” Lowell coach Dustin Hudak said. “To them now, it's just another historical event that they weren't around there. It's important for them to see that and appreciate not only what our veterans, but what our police officers and firefighters have done.”
Indians coach Ralph Holden first got the idea when he saw Mike Rowe highlight the nonprofit on his Facebook series, “Returning the Favor.” When Hudak called with the idea to start a trophy series involving some sort of philanthropy, Holden contacted Operation Compat BikeSaver founder Jason Zaideman.
The Red Devils and Indians competed to see who could sell the most T-shirts reading “Celebrating Our Veterans,” made by Zaideman's screen-printing company, Zink Factory. Both schools sold over 100. Members of both communities made additional donations, both teams chipped in $250 and 100% of concessions sales from the match will also go to the nonprofit.
Zaideman, a veteran himself, started the nonprofit in 2015 after realizing he felt better when refurbishing bikes in his garage. The idea is to provide “distraction therapy” to take vets' minds off their troubles by giving them a project to work on that requires detailed attention.
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“Those people that are kind of lost, we steer them in the right direction,” Zaideman said. “It's more of a camaraderie-based brotherhood and sisterhood of military mindsets that we get to share with other people that have been through the same experiences.”
Zaideman estimated thousands of vets flow through the doors of his shop every year. Without a product to sell, Operation Combat BikeSaver is entirely reliant on donations. Everyone who works at the shop volunteers — no employees are paid.
Naturally, Zaideman could use extra funds for amenities like a bigger building, new lights and basic overhead. Thanks to Lowell and LC, he'll have roughly an extra $2,000 to work with.
It's jolting to think how few high-schoolers were even alive for the shocking events of Sept. 11, 2001. Lowell junior first singles player Landon Krambeck, 16, said he has no concept of what the world was like before the attacks.
That these teams strive to keep the memories of victims and first responders alive makes it all their efforts all the more special.
The teams held a moment of silence before the match, which Lake Central won 4-1. Holden and Hudak are both social studies teachers, and they'll take their teams to visit Zaideman's shop sometime in October.
If high school sports are truly meant to be the educational experience focused on life lessons rather than wins and losses, then this is as good as it gets.
The Red Devils and Indians are fighting for something bigger than themselves. That's something we can all get behind.