IONIA – This week marks the rare occasion where student-athletes of Ionia High School play for the name on the back of their jersey rather than the one on the front.
Ionia’s Community Awareness Week kicks off Monday — an event put together to honor and raise funds for those affected by various cancers — and the tennis team’s match against Eastern will be one of the first affairs.
And for Justin Nutt, the Bulldogs’ No. 2 singles player, this week hits close to home.
The senior’s jersey for the “Purple Match” will read “Dad” in honor of his father, Chris, who passed away from stage 4 lung cancer in 2011.
“It’s my last home game, playing for my dad…I want to make everything count this year,” Nutt said. “When Monday comes around, I just want to put everything out there.”
Justin and his family moved to Ionia from Illinois when he was in seventh grade. His father, who was a Marine and retired as a first sergeant, had a brother in the area, and, as a group, the family felt it would be best to surround themselves with loved ones in his final moments.
Chris never got to see his oldest son play tennis. Justin was introduced to the sport as a freshman, by his cousin, a year after his father passed. But he knows his dad would have been one of his biggest cheerleaders, and believes he still is.
“My mom always tells me, every time I win or lose, that he would be proud of me,” he said. “Anything we were involved in he was supportive.
“As long as I’m doing my best, he’ll be watching and be proud of me.”
This season is the third year that the tennis program will be involved with the week-long event. All of the Bulldogs’ sports teams will wear purple uniforms to support the cause.
“We try to emphasize (the importance of the week) more and more,” Ionia tennis coach Cally Redder said, “but, at the end of the day, it’s also a match. It counts toward their wins and losses.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.
What: Ionia vs. Eastern (boys tennis)
When: Monday at 4 p.m.
Where: Ionia High School
Price: Free of charge, but concessions and other items will be for sale with proceeds going to the Community Awareness fund.