Hundreds of local people went to bat for Zach Netten this past weekend.
Netten, a freshman at East Ridge High School and a standout pitcher, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma Disease in early September - just three days after starting high school.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, area families hosted a wiffle ball tournament and home run derby for Netten at the Bielenberg Sports Complex. Forty-five teams took part and over 300 attended the tournament, with monies raised going to the Zach Netten Benefit Fund.
"We as a family had very little to do with this, so I didn't know what to expect," Zach's dad David Netten said. "The support by the community and the surrounding communities has been incredible. All the support really makes a difference ... It's a bittersweet issue for us, but we're glad to be here. Zach's doing really well and we're really grateful."
Netten, 14, was the star of the tournament, meeting with his many friends and supporters, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and saying a few words to the crowd before the games began. Teams from all over the metro area took part. Participants were given T-shirts that said "Attack it Zach" and donned Zach's number, 11.
"This is crazy," Zach said. "I'm amazed at how many people came together to support me today. It shows what people can do. It feels great to know they support and care about me."
Already standing 6'2", Zach is easy to spot in a crowd. But, what is even more outstanding is his ever-present smile and happy demeanor despite his current battle with cancer.
"A positive attitude is important," Zach's mom Leah Schulte said. "If you're going to sit around and have a woe's me attitude you're probably not going to recover as quickly. He is doing great ... This event is a lot of fun. We have great weather and great people - you couldn't ask for anything more. Zach has been very excited about this."
After having a persistent cough for nearly a year, Zach visited several doctors, including asthma and allergy specialists. When his cough began to worsen in August, he went to an ear, nose and throat doctor in early September, where he had a chest x-ray. Just days later, Zach was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital.
"I feel great," Zach said. "I've been doing well with this whole thing. I feel really good today. At first it was a lot to handle, but now it's just part of my everyday life. It's just a routine now and feels pretty normal."
Zach grew up playing traveling baseball for the Woodbury Athletic Association and the Woodbury Youth Athletic League. This past summer, he began playing ball for the East Ridge Athletic Association prior to enrolling at East Ridge High School. Zach is recognized for his size and for the velocity and his fastball and, over the years, he's racked up a number of strikeouts. He hasn't been able to play ball since late August, however.
"I don't think I did too bad for my first pitch in a while," Zach said. "It felt good to throw again. This is a fun day."
Zach said he hopes to play baseball this spring. East Ridge's tryouts will be held during spring break in March.
"Baseball is pretty much my life," he said. "I'm a big sports fanatic and I love baseball. I live and breathe baseball. I love pitching. There's nothing better than being out on that mound."
Zach said his drive to play again is helping him fight his illness.
"It's about determination," Zach said. "I'm obviously not going to be back in baseball shape the day after I get done with chemo. There's going to be a rebuilding process."
David Netten said the turnout for the tournament was a testament to Zach. He also said the support from the community was "overwhelming" and meant a bunch to Zach's recovery process.
"Things become more meaningful," he said. "We relish the opportunities when he gets to go out and be a normal kid for a day. You take those things for granted sometimes, but we don't anymore."