If you've attended a UW-Oshkosh men's basketball game recently, you may have noticed a new face sitting on the bench with the team. He's not a trainer, transfer student or the world's youngest college basketball coach; he is Luke Peters, an eighth-grade student from St. Mary's Catholic School in Neenah.
On Wednesday (Feb. 1), the UW-Oshkosh men's basketball team will host a "Shooting it for Luke" fundraising event at its home game against UW-Stevens Point.
Luke was diagnosed with a brain tumor one week before his sixth birthday. He was at his friend's house playing when he told his friend's parents that he couldn't see. Luke's parents took him to the emergency room to have him checked out. His mother, Sue Peters, thought he may have had a concussion. Within hours Luke was flown to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee where the doctors confirmed that he had a cancerous brain tumor. Two weeks later, Luke underwent surgery to have the tumor removed.
"No parent should hear that their child has a brain tumor," Sue said. "That day forever changed our lives."
While Luke was recovering, his family found support through the Fox Valley Brain Tumor Coalition and Children's Oncology Services based in the Chicago area. The Peters family became active in both groups.
At a Children's Oncology Services annual family camp, they learned about a nonprofit organization called the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FOJ), which works to improve the quality of life for children battling pediatric brain tumors and other childhood cancers. The foundation raises awareness through their Adopt-A-Child, Safe on the Sidelines and Guardian Angel programs. FOJ pairs children with cancer and their siblings with local high school and college sports teams, campus clubs and arts programs in their communities.
Luke was adopted by the Titans men's basketball team three years ago when he was in fifth grade. He has his own locker in UW-Oshkosh's locker room, sits on the bench during many of the Titans home games and is in the locker room for pregame prep and halftime adjustments with head coach Pat Juckem and his squad.
"The adoption has been something special for Luke and something that Luke can call his own," Sue said. "It's pretty special to have a whole team supporting and encouraging him."
The mutually beneficial relationship between Luke and the team is something for which many of the players are grateful. UW-Oshkosh sophomore point guard Kyle Beyak, from Mount Prospect, Ill., has a true appreciation for Luke.
"It means a lot that our team has adopted Luke," Beyak said. "He is a great kid and is very special to us, because we know how much he has been through in his life. His story is inspiring, and I am so glad to have the opportunity to have a good relationship with him."
The team has participated in various fundraisers since adopting Luke, including the St. Baldrick's Foundation fundraiser, where Luke and his family met the UW-Oshkosh men's basketball team for the first time three years ago.
Three players participated this year in Luke's honor in the St. Baldrick's Foundation fundraiser, which is a head-shaving event to cure childhood cancer. St. Baldrick's events raise critical funds for childhood cancer research.
"Sean Dwyer, Dave Vlotho and I shaved our heads for Luke's very own St. Baldrick's event," Beyak said. "Luke supports us all the time, so it was great to show him the same support. It was a really special day for us."
The team holds events throughout the year to show their support for Luke, but the relationship isn't just about the big events, it is also about the smaller and simpler – but just as important – moments.
"I was able to golf with Luke and his brother last year," said Ben Boots, a sophomore guard from Kimberly. "It was awesome to be able to spend time with him outside of Kolf and get to know him better."
Boots is grateful to spend time with Luke and thankful for his friendship.
"Luke is a great kid and his presence around our team has had a positive impact on us and, hopefully, we have had a positive impact on him as well," Boots said.
The "Shooting it for Luke" fundraising event is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Kolf Sports Center. All proceeds from the night will go directly to the Fox Valley Brain Coalition. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase an official "Shooting it for Luke" T-shirt for $10, enter to win raffle prizes and participate in other activities to support the cause.
Written by Liz Smith, UW-Oshkosh University Marketing & Communications