Mount Pulaski High School vs Springfield Lutheran soccer game dedicated as "Team Landon" night

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[September 17, 2016]   LINCOLN - Friday night’s soccer game in Mount Pulaski was all about the young man in the middle holding the soccer ball. Landon Watkins is a nine-year-old Mount Pulaski Grade School student who is battling a brain tumor. Coach Rob Siebert and team members, along with community support and support from the opposing team, Springfield Lutheran High School, got together and honored Landon by showing him they are fighting this battle with him.

The Mount Pulaski Soccer Team wore special shirts for the occasion that read “MPHS Soccer Supports #TeamLandon.”

Following the Toppers 3-0 loss to Springfield Lutheran, the teams gathered on the field in a giant circle and were led in prayer by Siebert, with Landon close by his side.

Siebert, who is also a member of the Mount Pulaski Christian Church and is an integral part of Big Wednesday at the church, is all about helping others. "I told the kids last week, we’ve had some tough games, we had some games where we played ranked opponents in state and they were tough.

Those were kind of hard losses, when you get beat that bad,” said Siebert. "But we sat around the circle and basically said, it’s great to be competitive, it’s great to fight hard and it’s great to want to win, but in the end it’s just a game. It really doesn’t matter in the end.”

Siebert went on to explain that given the tough situation Landon is currently facing, the team turned their focus on the young sports fan. "Then we just talked about Landon and how we wanted to help him.

I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while. I talked with Tim Stuckey several years ago when he had done it for his son. I loved the idea. I really had a lot of help and we really put this together rather quickly.”

Siebert noted that Angie Ford, Lori Batchelder and Abby Fletcher all pitched in to make it happen so quickly. “It turned out great,” said Siebert, who also happens to be Landon’s fourth grade teacher. "It was a chance for me to help him out. He’s a great kid and he’s in my class, too, which is even more special for me. I love the kid to death. He’s a great kid. I like the family. I have known Abby (Landon’s mom) for a long time. So just being able to help them meant the world to me. It also gave our team something to rally around. There’s not a single kid on that soccer team that I don’t love to death. They are all fantastic kids. They are the hardest working group of kids, in practice they work their butts off, but what they do off the field is even more awesome. I knew they would really rally around him and make him feel like a part of the team. I think for Landon it was just a chance for him to be a part of something big.”

Siebert continued, "It was neat. It just meant the world to me to be able to do that for him, you know, maybe take his mind of things for a little bit.” The game was about an hour in Friday night when a storm came through, dropping a heavy rain onto the soccer field. The players never stopped playing. Siebert’s team and the visiting Crusaders might have been soaked but their spirits were never dampened.

"Speaking of the storm, it was perfect.” said Siebert, who took advantage of the opportunity in the circle following the game. "We chit-chatted and I said, “You know what, Landon, everyone here fought hard but it’s just a game. There’s other things that matter more than games.” Siebert continued, "I mentioned the fact that no one quit and when that storm popped up not a single player stopped. They kept playing through those storms. I said, “Dude, you’re going through a storm right now but you just gotta keep playing, you gotta keep fighting through it and you’ll make it,” encouraged the MPHS soccer coach. "It was nice that storm popped up,” said Siebert, citing that it gave him a chance to use that analogy with Landon.

"The whole night was just great,” he added. "Tons of help. LuHi was fantastic. They collected money and the coach gave him an envelope with some money in it. The officials were great. They went out of their way. Everyone went out of their way to make sure Landon felt loved and included and they helped him out. It was just an absolute neat experience to see that it wasn’t just a game, that it went beyond the game,” concluded the proud coach.

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Mount Pulaski Athletic Director Brent Grisham put it into words magnificently when he said, “We play sports for many reasons. Because it is fun, because we enjoy the thrill of competition, and yes, because we love to succeed and be a winner. But as an athletic director I always hope that our athletes can see the bigger picture and understand what we learn from Interscholastic athletics. We learn teamwork, we learn how to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and most importantly we learn about life.

On this evening our coaches, athletes and community decided to compete in support of one of our own. Our student body showed up to say, “Landon, we will fight this battle with you” and it was a beautiful thing. May the God of grace look over Landon as he continues down this bumpy road. I was so very proud of our students and athletes and I am in amazement how Landon takes this all in stride and just keeps smiling.”

Landon, who turns 10-years-old on October 10th, will actually be celebrating his birthday early since his next surgery is scheduled for September 22nd.

Sandy Elsasser of Latham has organized a gift card shower for Landon and if you would like to contribute, her address is PO Box 54, Latham, IL 62543.

Elsasser is a former teacher in the Mount Pulaski School District and she is just one of many involved in helping this young man. There is also a 5K scheduled in Landon’s honor on September 24th and the MPHS volleyball team will host a Volley for the Cure on October 4th with proceeds helping out Landon’s family and two other families in the community. The entire community is indeed pitching in and fighting this fight with Landon. #TeamLandon

[Teena Lowery]

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