Area players give back via basketball clinic

NILES, Ill. -- Benet’s David Sobolewski bounced one basketball with his left hand, one with his right hand, kept his eyes up and continued speaking.

A Northwestern recruit, Sobolewski had no trouble with the basic drill, as expected.

When the half dozen kindergarten through fourth grade kids surrounding Sobolewski attempted the same feat, it proved much more difficult and comical. Some stared down and focused as hard as they ever had in their young lives attempting to get both balls to bounce simultaneously. They would dribble once with their left hand, then once with their right and eventually the two balls would end up scattering in different directions across the gym.

As the kids chased down the basketballs, Sobolewski smiled and kept on dribbling. He was enjoying himself, plus it beat practice.

Sobolewski, along with Benet coach Gene Heidkamp, Loyola coach Tom Livatino, Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy and players from their teams, took time away from their own programs on Thursday to spend the afternoon running a basketball clinic for 300 kids to raise money for the Danny Did Foundation, which aims to create awareness for the condition of Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy.

The Danny Did Foundation was created by Mike and Mariann Stanton after their four-year-old son, Danny, died in December of 2009 from a seizure while he was sleeping. In the last year, the foundation has published and distributed flyers that are handed out at hospitals around the country, raised around $300,000 and convinced three Chicago-area hospitals to begin clinically testing a Finnish-made device that detects seizures.

“Right after the day Danny died, my wife Mariann and I, amongst the many things we said to each other was, ‘Why didn’t we know this could happen?’” Mike said. “Subsequently, we found out that doctors do know that this result does occur with a condition like Danny’s. Right away, we decided we’re going to start something to let other people know.

“The name Danny Did came from the last line of his obituary, which I wrote. It’s, ‘Please go and enjoy your life. Danny did.’”

Benet became involved with Thursday’s basketball clinic through Heidkamp’s lifelong relationship with the Stanton family. He grew up three doors down from the Stantons in the Edgewater neighborhood and has remained friends with Mike and his brother Tom Stanton. Tom was previously an assistant for Heidkamp at Nazareth and is currently an assistant at Loyola.

Heidkamp helped set up the clinic and cancelled his team’s Thursday practice to allowing his players to participate in it.

“The foundation is something that’s important to a lot of people,” Heidkamp said. “Our team was very excited to be asked. I just took volunteers. I asked if anybody would be interested in coming out. As you can see, we had a nice turnout. This is their first day off from school. For them to come out on their first day, the first day they can probably sleep in, and want to be a part of it, means a lot to me, and I think it shows a little bit about these kids. When I explained what the cause was for and why were doing it, these guys all got on board.”

Sobolewski didn’t hesitate at volunteering.

“It’s a great way for our whole team to give back to the community,” Sobolewski said. “Obviously, it was a tragic event that happened. We were all really excited to help out today. It’s awesome interacting with the kids. They’re all fans of basketball, and they’re willing to learn from you and listen to you. It’s been really nice to coach them up and teach them a few things.”

For the Stanton family members, such events are always bittersweet. They look at the hundreds of kids running around with smiles on their faces, and it places a smile on their own faces, but it also reminds them of Danny.

“It’s very emotional for me,” Mike said. “The reason we have something like this is because Danny would have loved to have something like this. To come out here and walk in and see the line out the door with all these kids, it’s extremely emotional. It’s hard, but it’s like, ‘I’ll take it.’

“One thing I always say is, ‘Danny continues to have an impact in this world’, and I believe that.”

While it’s often difficult, it also drives them to push forward with the foundation.

“We’ve been really aggressive in our outreach, and we’ll keep doing that because we feel it needs to be done, and people need to know about SUDEP,” Tom said. “They need to know you can die of a seizure, and 50,000 people die because of seizures every year in the U.S. People hear that, and they’re surprised, and that’s not right. It’s a message that needs to get out.”

For more information on the foundation and SUDEP, go to www.dannydid.org.