Rory plays part in a season to remember
When Mitch Ruchim’s son Kyle played little league baseball with Rory, Kyle never forgot that Rory wore jersey #9. “Since Rory died, all of my kids have worn #9 on their sports team uniforms as a way to honor Rory’s memory,” says Mitch. Kyle still wears the number and is now a member of a championship team that has also adopted Rory’s name and his courageous spirit. Through its winning ways, Illinois Express/Team Rory has raised close to $30,000 for The Foundation. This team is committed to raising even more before its sensational tournament season comes to a end.
Illinois Express/Team Rory is an elite sixteen and under travel team made up of top tier players from various high schools in the area. They compete against other top teams across the Midwest. Through his work with The Foundation, his fondness for Rory, and his long friendship with Ross, Mitch came up with the idea to gather sponsors. The sponsors would contribute money to The Foundation based on each team victory as well as individual feats such as home runs. “I took it to the team and the parents of team members before the tournament season began,” he says. “They not only enthusiastically supported the idea but decided to add Rory’s name as well. Each player got to know Rory’s story and the courage he displayed in battling the disease, and I think it’s no accident that the team has come together and is now recognized as one of the best in the Midwest.”
Raising $750 from each of its thirty-eight wins, Illinois Express/Team Rory became nationally recognized and competed in national tournaments in Atlanta at the end of the July and in Las Vegas this past summer. When the club claimed a championship at Oakton Community College in early July, Ross was in the stands and was handed the team trophy after the game. “The kids were insistent that I hold it,” Ross said. “It was quite a day, and realizing that these kids have accomplished so much with Rory’s name on their jersey is really a great feeling. I think their connection to The Foundation has helped the players recognize a higher purpose other than themselves. They are a true team in so many ways.”
The players take great pride in their uniform and what it stands for, according to Mitch, who describes himself as the George Steinbrenner of the team. “In fact, curious players and coaches from other teams have asked head coach Dan Petrich about Rory,” Mitch says. “They are interested in what Team Rory means, so his story and the work of The Foundation is reaching more and more people as the team continues to win. College coaches who see our players as top prospects have visited our team website and learned more about The Foundation. It’s really been exciting on many different levels.”
Just as others have found unique ways to raise funds for The Foundation, Mitch says this is the team’s way of supporting further medical research while celebrating the memory of a special #9. “Rory was always a special kid,” says Mitch. “He loved baseball and loved to have fun. Kyle even has an engraved picture of Rory on his bat, knowing that if he had lived Rory might even be playing on this team. As Ross always likes to say, ‘To win, you have to care about each other.’ That’s what this team has done. They will always remember this season, and will always remember that Rory was a big part of it.”