DOWNERS GROVE – Danny Spinuzza's mom died from pancreatic cancer when he was 10, and it was sports that helped get him through it.
"I've always played sports as a kid, and that was kind of a rough part of my childhood," he said. "But me and my dad, we grew [because of] sports, basically. He always was around to drive me to my practices and my games, and our relationship grew and got stronger."
Local sports fans likely recognize Spinuzza's name as a varsity basketball and baseball player at Downers Grove South High School, where he graduated this spring.
Now, he is using his talents to give back to the community and raise awareness of the disease that took his mother.
The 18-year-old and his friends hosted a volunteer four-day basketball camp for kids between 8 and 15 years old during the week of July 20 on the courts at O'Brien Park. The effort was greeted by great weather and about 15 camp participants.
He spread the word the old-fashioned way, posting flyers throughout the community the week before the camp. Starting July 22, Spinuzza and a dozen friends woke up early each morning to teach the young athletes.
Each youth paid $20 for the camp, all of which is going to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
"He's just been inspiring these young kids," said Holly Plys, whose 8-year-old son Sammy attended the camp. "I think it's wonderful to see some young people giving back some skills and things they've had good experiences with in the community."
The camp usually started with stretching and a shoot around, followed by something fun like a game of knock out. Drills and fundamentals were next, with another fun activitiy and then a break for lunch. Each day ended with sprints up and down the hill at O'Brien Park.
"I'm blessed to have even 14, 15 kids come and support the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation to give their time to get better at basketball, and stronger and workout with us," Spinuzza said. "It's a lot of fun, and we all enjoy it."
Next year, he will play baseball at Triton College in River Grove, and aspires eventually earn a roster spot on a four-year collegiate program
He also plans to make the camp an annual event, he said.
"I've always wanted to have something in remembrance of my mom," Spinuzza said. "The main focus is to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. I feel that in general people aren't really familiar with this type of cancer. The more it gets out there, the more people might donate and maybe raise more awareness as the word spreads."
The name for the camp, "Fear the Beard," came from T-shirts his high school basketball teammates made in honor of Spinuzza's full beard.
He said he wants each camper to walk away knowing "what we teach in basketball and training, you have to really work hard for what you want and to not give up," he said. "If your really want something, you go out and get it, and to always remember where you came from and not be selfish. If you see someone having trouble with a drill, help them with it.
"And to really take in the experience, to make sure that they know what they playing for, which is the fight against cancer, which is the most important thing."
HOW TO HELP
Residents who would like to donate can email Danny Spinuzza at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630-673-1051.