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Since their team manager was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, team members and coaches of the Hoosiers have come to his aid.
They were holding their heads high. There was a lot of cheering from the stands and naturally a lot of excitement in the locker room. It was September 1st and the Hoosiers had just won their season opener against Florida International.
But what fans didn’t know is that away from Miami’s Riccardo Silva Stadium the Hoosiers were rallying around one of their own – a 21-year-old graduate of Guerin Catholic High School who serves as a manager for the IU football team. Long after the team made the 1,000-mile plus trip back to Bloomington, In. Matthew “Matt” Stauder would be fighting a battle off the football field. And he wouldn’t fight it alone.
Fans also didn’t see something else after that 38-28 victory on September 1st. Inside the locker room, teammates were presenting Stauder with the game ball and lifting him in the air. The victory goes down in the history books as the second in three years for the Hoosiers. The win also captures a snapshot of Stauder’s passion.
It was a high school buddy of Stauder’s who first introduced him to the idea of becoming a football manager. When he started at IU, he roomed with several athletes in Briscoe Quad and before long the football players became his friends. As a sports management and marketing major, it seemed like a perfect college gig. He’s one of 15 managers. For the most part, he says his work is behind-the-scenes. On the sidelines during practices he helps set up and run drills. Before games, he packs and loads equipment. And during the games he charts plays reminding coaches of the repetitions of the running backs. After games he helps load equipment and then there’s the hours of laundry.
“I like working with the team and building personal relationships with the players and coaches,” said Stauder. “It’s nice to have conversations outside football – to talk about other things in life.” Those conversations have also helped Stauder focus on something more than his disease.
On the same day the Hoosiers were celebrating a win over Florida International – September 1st, Stauder and his family were remembering a year earlier. On the same date, Stauder’s father, Martin Stauder died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 57. Matt Stauder, his brother Michael and his mother Karla were only just beginning to learn to adjust to the loss when, seven months later, Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
It was April and Stauder remembers having night sweats and a loss of appetite.
“I noticed the right side of my neck was hard and I just assumed I had mono,” said Stauder. “I was coming home for the weekend to visit my mom and when I got home she decided we needed to go to the doctor right away.” The mono test came back negative. They were referred to IU Health for an ultra sound and biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis. Under the care of IU Health hematologist/oncologist Dr. Jose Azar, Stauder is undergoing six cycles every two weeks of chemotherapy.
“As far as I know, I’m kicking it,” said Stauder. “I’ll have a PET scan in November. Other than feeling more tired than usual, I’m doing pretty good.” As he completed the 11th of 12 treatments, Stauder who was accompanied by his mother, talked about life since his diagnosis and the support from his team.
They know, but they don’t make cancer the focus. “They talk to me about things outside of cancer which is good. They make sure I’m OK and the coaches have been great about asking if I need anything and respecting my energy levels,” said Stauder, who works closely with Mitch Gudmundson, Director of Football Equipment/Associate Director of Team Purchasing, and Carter Ubelhoer, Football Equipment Manager.
“It’s the team that has kept his spirits up,” said Karla Stauder. “He’s remained incredibly positive and brave. He has inspired a lot of people by what he’s handled the past year. He inspires me every day. We rely on our friends, family and faith.”
Outside of Memorial Stadium, outside of practices and game day, the team and coaches are surrounding Stauder and his family with emotional and financial support. One recent fundraiser brought together Bloomington businesses and featured live music. Among the more than 100 people in attendance was IU Head Coach Tom Allen who posted a picture and tweeted from the event: “Great turnout. Nothing but love” with the hash tag “L.E.O.” – his personal team motto, “Love Each Other.”
Since he started his treatments in May, Stauder has been overwhelmed by the encouragement of his teammates. In July, assistant head running back coach Mike Hart made a surprise visit to Stauder’s chemotherapy treatment at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. In one post he related how dedicated Stauder is to the IU program. When a practice pass hit him in the head and he suffered a concussion, Stauder was supposed to be out of commission for the next game, but he showed up anyway.
“I got in Sunday morning to grade film and the stat sheet was there,” said Hart in an IUHoosier.com post. “He broke the doctor’s rules and charted everything. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s phenomenal.”
Hoosier running back Ricky Brookins set up a GoFundMe page on line that raised more than $20,000 in the first 22 days.
Brookins, who has worked with Stauder for the past three years, was quoted on the Hoosiers’ website as saying: “Being a football manager can be stressful. You have to set up stuff over here, and then set it up over there, and the coaches don’t like to wait. No matter what, Matt is always smiling. He’s so happy. He’s so energetic. He laughs with us during drills.” Brookins commended Sauder for attending camp in August – just months after he started treatment for his cancer.
“He’s so selfless. He wanted to be there for us. With the help of the community and players we can pull Matt through the fight of his life. He has supported out team every day, now it’s our turn to assist him.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.