Facing toughest foe, Netten looks to strike out cancer
A standout pitcher, Zach Netten has gone toe-to-toe with many challengers on the baseball diamond. However, Netten is now facing his biggest opponent.
A freshman at East Ridge High School, Netten, 14, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in early September -- just three days after starting high school.
After having a persistent cough for nearly a year, Netten visited several doctors, including asthma and allergy specialists. When his cough began to worsen in August, Netten went to an ear, nose and throat doctor on Sept. 7, where he had a chest x-ray. Just days later he was also diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Netten recently finished his second round of chemotherapy at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital.
"He is doing great," said Zach's mom, Leah Schulte. "He is on a rest period now for 12 days. Knock on wood, you can't really tell he's sick, except that he doesn't have hair."
Netten's treatments have a 97 percent success rate, Schulte said.
"I am feeling really positive about it right now," she said. "His treatments are going really well. We're pretty hopeful."
Netten grew up playing traveling baseball for the Woodbury Athletic Association and the Woodbury Youth Athletic League. This past summer, he started playing ball for the East Ridge Athletic Association prior to enrolling at East Ridge High School.
Already standing 6'2", Netten is recognized for his size and for the velocity of his fastball. Over the years, he's racked up an abundance of strikeouts.
"He played like a champ all summer," Schulte said. "He's a very tall, tall kid. He's fairly well known around the metro."
Gary Rinehart, the WAA Traveling Baseball Director, was one of many area residents who reached out to Zach and his family after hearing the news. Just over a year ago Rinehart was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer.
"I just wanted to touch base with him to let him know he's not alone as someone who went through it," said Rinehart, who had a CT scan in August that came back clear.
Rinehart said he passed along some words of wisdom to Zach.
"I told him to just stay positive. It sounds cliché, but if you go into every chemo session thinking about how much you're going to dread it, then you are. You have to make the most of it. If you can go in with a positive outlook every session and even try to have fun with it, it's not going to be anywhere near as bad as what you think it'll be.
"You have to look at everything as a challenge, but attack it like you would on the baseball field. As a ball player he understands that and can appreciate that."
Schulte said Zach had hoped to try out for the East Ridge freshman team prior to his diagnosis. Those plans may be on hold, but she is hopeful Zach can be involved with baseball this spring in some fashion.
"If he can't play ball for East Ridge this year, we still want to keep him involved with baseball this summer. It all depends on how he is doing," she said.
Rinehart said he feels confident he'll see Netten on the field soon.
"I have zero doubt in my mind that he'll be on the mound next spring. None at all," he said. "He's a strong kid and I know he'll be stronger than ever in the very near future."
Families to host wiffle ball tournament fundraiser
This week, families from Woodbury are hosting a wiffle ball tournament and home run derby for Netten at Bielenberg Sports Complex. Monies raised will go toward the Zach Netten Benefit Fund.
"We've gotten support from the WAA, WYAL and East Ridge Athletic Associations," Schulte said. "Families we know, and even some we don't know, are bringing us meals. It's been really overwhelming for me. I never thought in a million years the community would come out like this. It's very cool to be a part of and I'm very grateful."
Netten is hoping to be on hand for the tournament, set for this Sunday, Oct. 21, at Bielenberg Sports Complex, where he will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Teams of four players from all over the metro will be taking part.
"I think it's going to be a really cool event," Schulte said. "Even if people don't play baseball, I think people can come out and enjoy it."
Rinehart said even though he goes to East Ridge, all of Woodbury is coming out to support Zach.
"I don't care if a kid went to Timbuktu, he needs help," Rinehart said. "He went through our program and we want to support him. There were no colors drawn out between East Ridge and Woodbury when I went through my issue. This isn't a WAA or East Ridge thing. This is a baseball family. There are no colors when you deal with something like this."
Zach Netten Wiffle Ball Tournament & Home Run Derby
-Sunday, Oct. 21, 2 to 6 p.m.
-Bielenberg Sports Complex
-For more info contact: Sharon Gerst at firstname.lastname@example.org