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Coach’s Big Dream Fulfilled At Arrowhead

Honoring Those in Their Fight Against Cancer

By Carol Best
September 4, 2014

It’s nearly impossible to find someone whose life hasn’t been impacted by cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “in 2014, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US. Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.”

On Saturday, October 11, MNU will recognize those who have experienced a battle with cancer at the Defeat All Cancer game at Arrowhead Stadium. MNU is honored to recognize the stories of men and women whose journey with cancer has led to an even more powerful testimony for Jesus Christ. This is Bruce’s story.

It was May 2012 when Bruce Pielstick’s wife Lisa was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Married nearly 25 years the couple had raised their children and were enjoying careers at Woodland Christian School in Woodland, California. She was the principal, he was the head football coach. As Bruce and Lisa embarked upon her battle with cancer, they found support among Woodland’s students and parents, and a host of friends and family. They began to realize how many others were battling or were somehow touched by another’s battle with cancer. All types of cancer. In fact, a receiver on Woodland’s team had just learned his father had esophageal cancer.

Through good and bad days Lisa tried to be at every game Bruce coached. She had rarely missed an event throughout his 32 year career. During the football season the coach and some of Woodland’s booster club members talked about how much support there was for breast cancer awareness, especially during October.

“We started thinking, ‘we need to do something for everyone else.’ Wouldn’t it help to honor and support those fighting all kinds of cancer” Bruce said. “Those patients needed to know that others cared and were praying for them too.”

The group developed a special cancer awareness ceremony for halftime of a game that season. Lisa did not want it to be all about her, so the players were encouraged to choose patients to represent at the game. All types of cancer was represented and the community loved it. For two years Woodland held the Defeat Cancer game and Lisa was at both. Sadly, in January 2014, she succumbed to her disease.

What started in California two years ago is now here in the Metro because Bruce Pielstick has a passion to support others dealing with the battle of a lifetime. Now MidAmerica Nazarene University’s new offensive coordinator, Bruce brought his vision to the Midwest and the university hopes it catches on. MNU has declared a very special game as the Defeat All Cancer game. On Oct. 11, 2014, MNU will meet Missouri Valley College at Arrowhead Stadium. The game is part of a double header including Baker University versus Benedictine College and sponsored by the NAIA. It’s called the Gridiron Challenge and the Pioneers are pumped about playing at Arrowhead. Even more than playing football in an NFL stadium however, they hope that Kansas City will feel the love and caring they want to pour out to those battling cancer.

Football players will wear wristbands and tape on their shoes in the colors assigned to different forms of cancer, representing friends and loved ones fighting the disease. Fans who are battling or have battled cancer will be part of a balloon release and prayer will be offered for all cancer patients. The athletes are honored to participate in this special recognition.

One such athlete is Luke Elam who will represent both of his parents who succumbed to cancer seven years apart. His mother Jane died when Luke was a child. Though battling colon cancer for eight years, his father Britt never missed one of Luke’s sporting events. The Overland Park native transferred from Ft. Scott Community College to MNU last spring to finish his degree and to play for the Pioneers as a mike linebacker. At the same time Britt Elam’s health worsened.

“He got to watch me play for MNU in the spring game,” Luke says. “In May he went from going to work on a Wednesday to can’t get out of bed that Friday.” Luke says while watching his dad’s health decline he realized the “real” reason he transferred to MNU. Both Bruce and Luke say it was God’s way of making sure Luke was there for his father.

Excited about the Defeat All Cancer promotion at the Gridiron Challenge, Luke says the team knows they are playing for a greater purpose. And yet, his emotions are mixed.

“My dad was here to watch every game I played. This will be the first year he’s is not here. But this game is almost an answer to my prayers that I could play for my parents one more time.”

Bruce says this game will be a different experience for the athletes.

“This is such a great opportunity for young men to learn that the game is not just about them, but it’s about the people that got them there too. They’re playing with a higher purpose.”

The public is invited to request a player to represent them or a loved one with cancer by emailing Coach Pielstick at bpielstick@mnu.edu using the subject line “Defeat All Cancer Representative.”

We want to effect the players and coaches, we want to touch the lives of the students on this campus and the faculty, but we also want to touch this community,” Bruce says. “It is more about loving people and letting them know they are not alone in this battle.”

Bruce and Luke hope that Kansas City will support the Gridiron Challenge and Defeat All Cancer. After all, it’s a chance to experience Arrowhead for a great cause while supporting area NAIA football and a double header all for $18 per person or $8 for students. To order tickets click the Gridiron Challenge or visit www.mnusports.com.

Editor's note: Thanks to The Kansas City Star and writer Sara Beane for their interest in this story. Read the article here.

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