Matt Stauder was pulled in all directions Thursday night.
He was constantly engaged in conversation as he navigated the perimeter of a white event tent pitched in the parking lot of Smith’s Shoe Center and Wagon Wheel Custom Meats at 1915 S. Walnut St.
His conversation partners varied, from friends within the IU football program to Bloomington residents who just wanted to wish him well and even IU Coach Tom Allen.
They were all there for Stauder, a selfless, soft-spoken IU senior and longtime student equipment manager for the IU football team, who has been undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma since May.
“I wanted to remind him that don’t ever hesitate,” Allen said. “Whatever you need, we’ll find a way to make it happen for you. I just put my arm around him, told him I loved him.”
Thursday’s benefit for Stauder featured about 100 people gathered in and around the tent to offer emotional and financial support to Stauder, support that has showered him since his diagnosis in April.
The event was sponsored by three Bloomington businesses and featured food and live music from local country music singer Reece Phillips. According to a press release, all proceeds were to go toward Stauder’s medical expenses, but Stauder also received an additional $5,000 during the event from Carl Lamb, a Bloomington attorney who presented the donation via the Hope for Hoosiers Foundation.
These are only the latest examples of the Bloomington community rallying around Stauder.
First, IU senior running back Ricky Brookins created a GoFundMe page to help pay for Stauder’s medical expenses. Created eight days before Stauder’s first chemotherapy treatment, the page has raised more than $30,000 from more than 400 donations as of Sept. 21.
In his duties as an IU football manager, Stauder works closely with the running backs. He brings over the heavy balls and bags, as well as sets up drills for assistant head coach and running backs coach Mike Hart.
Stauder, who is from Westfield, Indiana, said he and Brookins were friends, but not super close friends last season. Since Stauder’s cancer diagnosis though, the two have formed a tight relationship and are neighbors.
“When I got back down to Bloomington, he just wanted to hang out a lot more,” Stauder said. “That just means so much to me. One of the people that I see and work with everyday shows appreciation and supports me like that.”
Those hangouts with Brookins feature the usual activity of any college-aged male — the video game Fortnite, which Stauder says he has the advantage in. Spending time away from the football field with Brookins is significant, if for no other reason than the amount of time Stauder still dedicates to the Hoosier program.
Stauder has been to all IU games this season, arrives at Memorial Stadium around 6 a.m. each day and said he’s only missed five practices since managers reported to the team July 31.
He hasn’t informed any of his IU professors of his situation either. A sports management and marketing major, Stauder has only one class in person this semester while the rest are online.
“I don’t think I’m really struggling right now,” Stauder said. “I’m just trying to act like a normal kid and that’s what I’ve been doing all throughout treatment is try to live as normal of a life as I can.”
Stauder continues to do practically anything a coach or player may need him to during practice, except for loading dirty laundry because of the germs.
It’s part of the reason both Allen and Hart value his contributions, and all of IU’s equipment managers, so greatly.
“They get yelled at, they get screamed at like they’re players and they just show up and they smile,” Hart said. “So it’s one of those things where you just appreciate them so much, and especially Matt. He’s just a great kid. He’s special.”
Prior to his cancer diagnosis, Stauder was faced with the sudden death of his father last year from a heart attack.
The one-year anniversary of his death coincided with IU’s 2018 season-opening game at Florida International, a game the Hoosiers won 38-28. Following the game in the IU locker room, Allen presented Stauder with the game ball.
“It’s a thank you. He’s part of our win,” Allen said. “I just wanted to thank him, number one, and number two, I wanted him to know how much we love him and care about him.”
More than four months after starting chemotherapy, Stauder said he is nearing the end of his treatments.
Stauder’s 11th chemotherapy treatment out of a total of 12 will take place Monday, and he was told at his last doctor’s appointment that based on his CAT scan following his eighth treatment, his tumor site has shrunk by two-thirds. After the chemotherapy treatments are complete, Stauder will get a full body PET scan to see if the cancer has spread.
“Going into chemo, I obviously didn’t know what to expect,” Stauder said. “So I was a little bit nervous, but after I got like my first two or three under my belt, I kind of knew what to expect each time.”
Stauder’s story has been used by IU’s coaches, several of whom attended the fundraiser, to illustrate what is and isn’t important in life.
“You realize that nothing is really that serious,” Hart said. “Losing doesn’t kill you, making mistakes doesn’t kill you, but cancer kills you. When you realize that, then you realize that it puts everything in perspective.”
Stauder said it’s unbelievable to him how many people have helped him, and those people are the reason he continues his dedication to the IU program.
“I could stay at home and lay in bed or whatever,” Stauder said. “But I want to pay it back to them for everybody who’s been supportive of me.”
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