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Two members of the Walt Fiegel Foundation approached me recently, asking me to help dispel a local myth. The scholarships given in memory of their late football coach were not only for athletes. Or for East High seniors.

The $1,000 scholarships, they insisted, are reserved for winners.

“It’s never been about athletics,” said Jeff Croston, a 1985 East grad who played for Fiegel. “Coach Fiegel was a football coach, but he was much more than that. He always had a special interest in students that didn’t have the gift of athletics.”

After his death in 2003, several of Fiegel’s former players formed a foundation in his honor. The group celebrates its fourth annual golf tournament and dinner this weekend, highlighted with the award of four $1,000 scholarships to students from East, West and Bishop Heelan High School. To date, the Walt Fiegel Foundation has raised more than $65,000, money which is overseen by the Siouxland Community Foundation.

Foundation member Steve Huisenga explained that the group awarded two scholarships two years ago. The number grew to three last year and may top four in years to come.

If the 2007 recipients are anything like two of the 2006 winners I spoke with, these awards are finding very good homes.

Tough people last

Fiegel loved to use this statement for a student or player facing adversity. “Tough times don’t last,” he’d say, “tough people do.”

It resonated with Mike Haight, a Fiegel Foundation scholar wrapping up his first year at the University of Iowa.

Haight, the son of Grant and Gail Haight, played football as a freshman and sophomore for East High. He suffered a broken foot his junior season and had a pin surgically inserted. He was excited to come back for his senior campaign, but that season was derailed the first week of practice.

“Three days after practice started I told Coach (Steve) Zediker that I didn’t feel well,” Haight remembered. “He told me to go home and rest before coming back.”

Haight had a seizure later that day. An exam discovered Haight had a brain tumor. A month later, doctors took a biopsy and found the tumor wasn’t cancerous.

Still, football was out.

Having a tumor didn’t stop Haight from playing basketball that winter for the Black Raiders. He was eighth man and co-captain on a team that finished third among Class 4A schools. Haight had missed his junior basketball season due to the foot injury.

If it weren’t for bad luck in his high school athletic career, Mike Haight would have had no luck at all.

Toward the end of his senior year, Haight applied for a Fiegel Foundation scholarship. He remembered the old coach supervising the weight room when Haight was a seventh-grader.

“I liked how friendly Coach Fiegel was,” Haight said. “Here I was a seventh-grader lifting at a 4A school and the head football coach knew who I was.”

“I applied for the scholarship because I knew who Coach was,” he added. “Healthwise I wasn’t getting stuff to go my way. But I remembered Coach Fiegel’s saying about how tough times don’t last, but tough people do. That saying stayed with me.”

Haight, who still has that brain tumor, will undergo surgery to remove it in 2008. Until then, he’ll study actuarial sciences at Iowa while finding time to work in between courses.

Iowa State University freshman Kylie McCarthy also won a $1,000 scholarship a year ago. The exercise sciences/pre-med major is the daughter of Melissa Miller and Brian McCarthy.

Speaking of tough times, McCarthy’s stepfather, Tim Miller, died of cancer during her sophomore year. She’ll always remember her final Christmas with Miller.

“He had some seizures and went to the doctor and they told him he had cancer and probably two months to live,” she said. “It was a pretty rough Christmas.”

The diagnosis came Nov. 19, 2003. Miller died Jan. 19, 2004, two months to the day after he learned of the disease.

“I wrote an essay for the scholarship and I talked about overcoming those obstacles,” said McCarthy.

My, did she!

While at East, McCarthy took part in volleyball, softball, show choir and earned all-state honors in speech. She also served as student body president, which impressed Croston and the scholarship committee.

“She became a leader,” he said. “Through hard work and a challenge, she became a role model.”

Huisenga, a 1984 East High grad who also played for Fiegel, said their old coach touched them in matters way beyond football. Establishing a scholarship in his honor keeps the spirit of a unique gridiron mentor very much alive.

About this weekend

A dinner, program and auction gets the Walt Fiegel Foundation event started this weekend. A social hour at 5:29 p.m. (Fiegel time, they say) Friday at Lewis Bowl gives way to the prime rib dinner and auction that features a Brett Favre autographed helmet, lots of Iowa and Iowa State merchandise and a weekend package featuring a Chicago Cubs game and a Hawkeye football game at Soldier Field (the same weekend). There’s also a week stay at an Orlando condominium featured and many other items.

A four-person best shot golf tournament will be held Saturday at Whispering Creek.

For any information on these events, call Huisenga at (712) 490-3229 or Croston at (712) 253-4496.