20 Sep Emotional Home Football Opener As Berlin High School Remembers Nick Zuk with Big Statues Sculpture
The following article was written by Bill Leukhardt with video credit to Hartford Courant:
Nick Zuk, who died in June after a battle with cancer, was everywhere Friday night at Berlin High School’s first home football game of the season.
Around half of the 1,000 people at Sage Park’s Scalise Field sported “Team Zuk 53, Redcoats Tackle Cancer” T-shirts, which sold like hot cakes for $20 each to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
“I don’t know how many we sold tonight, but we only had a few left,” said Kevin Sparks, president of the Berlin Bears youth sports group, which had three Zuk fundraiser tables selling shirts, bracelets and $1 a glass Nick’s Lemonade. So far, the drive has raised more than $12,500 and
probably will exceed $15,000 after Friday’s efforts. Zuk got his start playing midget football with the Bears.
After Berlin’s 50-14 victory over the Rockville Rams, the team, the Zuk family and a few hundred onlookers stayed to dedicate a monument.
Michelle Zuk, Nick’s mom, said it was obvious from early on that Nick, the second of the three Zuk children, would play sports. He was so active and eager to play, only coming inside to eat before rushing back outside to play football, baseball or whatever the game of that day was.
When he fell ill in his sophomore year with leukemia, his hospital room became what his home bedroom had been — a place where many friends flocked to play video games, listen to music, talk and eat.
“Last year, he couldn’t play football, but he was at every game,” Michelle Zuk recalled to the crowd of his son’s time in remission. He was working out in a gym and preparing to return to the field this year when the cancer came back in the spring.
“We were hoping for a miracle. But it was not meant to be,” she said. Then she looked around the field before speaking again. “What an incredible tribute to our son.”
The number 53 on the shirts and banners was the number of Zuk’s uniform. Berlin retired that number after he died.
“My son told me about the story tonight,” Rockville parent Mike Loomis said as he watched his son Alex on the field against Berlin. By halftime the score was 36-7.
John Paul Demko, an assistant Berlin coach who led the Zuk memorial efforts, said after the game, “We were trying to get No. 53 on the scoreboard, but it didn’t work out.”
The number was everywhere else in the field. “Redcoats tackle cancer” banners with the number 53 hung off bleacher railings. So did memorial posters from BHS students proclaiming school support for Zuk and his family.
At the home team entrance gate to the playing field was something new: a memorial to Zuk, complete with a plaque and bust of Zuk, who was 17 and would have been a senior this fall. He was a key offensive and defensive player on the varsity football team.
To honor Zuk, the Berlin team sent 10 players instead of 11 onto the field at the start against Rockville.
Aresimowicz said the team will start every game with 10 players instead of 11 to remember Zuk, who was the team’s right tackle and nose guard.
“We will have 10 for our first offensive play. We will send in the 11 for the second,” he said at halftime. “The team is really emotional tonight but OK.”
As the team walked through the gate past the monument before the start of the game, players put red roses on top of the base of the monument.
“I’m so proud of the students,” high school principal Francis Kennedy said as he watched the game. “This team is a real family. Such maturity. This is a lovely tribute to Nick.”