This definitely was bigger than just a high school soccer game.
Which is saying a lot because Tuesday night’s game between host Warren and Libertyville was huge in its own right, as it decided the North Suburban Conference Lake Division title — Warren (12-2-4) winning it with a 3-1 victory. Libertyville is 9-3 overall.
But the night was also about people and caring, as this was Warren’s annual fundraising game for the Scleroderma Foundation — Kicking It 4 Scleroderma is what it was called.
Scleroderma is a complex autoimmune disease that can affect the skin and internal organs, causing tissue to harden and inhibiting proper function. No one treatment has been proven to reliably halt or reverse the effects, and patients with affected organs may require transplants.
Steve Ahonen, the father of Warren head coach Jason Ahonen, received a double lung transplant in the summer of 2012.
Proceeds from admission and the 50/50 raffle are heading to the Scleroderma Foundation of Greater Chicago.
But first, the game. Warren’s win completed a 6-0 run through the NSC Lake, and the Devils will host Prairie Division Round Lake next week Thursday in the league’s title game.
The Devils led 2-0 at the half on goals from Kevin Penarrieta in the 19th minute and Chris Travis in the 30th.
On the first goal, Nick Haas and Richie Flores both ripped shots from the top of the box that were deflected back off defenders. Penarrietta buried the third attempt.
On the second goal, Alex Fratila hit a great corner and Travis headed it home.
Libertyville got within 2-1 in the 63rd minute when Cam Fragassi got a rebound past goalkeeper R.J. Hill.
Then, in the 77th minute, Hall went 60 yards and scored on a breakaway to complete the 3-1 win.
“It’s really a team effort these days,” said Hill. “Nobody is great here, but everybody is perfect at what they do.”
As for winning the division title, Hass said, “This is pretty big for us. To do it against our biggest rival makes it even better.”
The loss dropped Libertyville to 3-2 in the division with a game left.
“We played really well. We just had trouble finishing,” said Wildcats coach Andy Bitta. “We had opportunities but we couldn’t put it in the back of the net. When you don’t put it in the back of the net, you don’t deserve to win.”
The group that does deserve a win is the Scleroderma Foundation, and hopefully funds raised Tuesday will help put the foundation in the win column in its fight against the disease.
This was the third annual Kicking It 4 Sclerodema game, and the first that Steve Ahonen was able to attend.
“I feel great. I’m two years post (transplant),” Steve said. “I’m really feeling good. I’m enjoying my second chance at life, and I’m happy to be here.
“It’s great to see the community come out and help raise awareness and money for organ donations,” he added. “Scleroderma is a little-known disease, and it’s something that needs to be brought to the public’s attention. There are people out there who need help. That’s what it’s about.”
Also speaking during the pregame ceremony was Kula Geib, who is the mother of Warren High student and former Blue Devils soccer player Lucas Geib (he now plays club ball for FC Sockers in Palatine).
Her twin sister passed away from Scleroderma three weeks ago.
“It’s such an uncommon disease that when we found out Coach Ahonen’s family was affected by it, we couldn’t believe it,” Kula said. “The support the team and the Warren community is showing by coming out tonight is really special.”
For their part, the Warren players were as fired up about the event as they were for the game.
“We’ve been telling everyone at school about it and telling them to come out,” said Hill. “It’s really important to us. Some of us have been doing it since 2012, and it’s actually become a part of us. It feels like one big family, and the fans were better than I’ve ever seen tonight. It was insane. What a great feeling.”
Travis, a senior, agreed with his goalkeeper.
“Being a part of this game, getting people together, especially for a charity event, and especially when it affects your coaches and peers, it makes it 10 times better,” he said. “Participating with the fans and seeing them get into it was awesome. Everyone is coming together through a sport, for a great cause, and you get the win. That’s a great day.”