WHS Alumni Swing For The Fences For A Cause

Adam Dean Howe
Enterprise Staff
Willlard Palmer and his family are not used to being held down.  For years, Willard, or “Will” as most know him, and his wife, Cathy, have followed and supported their children at numerous sporting events.  Brittany, now a 30 year old mother of 2 with one on the way, was a standout shortstop for the Lady Cats softball team and also played basketball before graduating in 2008.  Megan, a 27 year old new mother of the Palmer’s most recent grandchild, was also a shortstop for the Lady Cats and was a member of their 2010 state championship team.  She also played basketball too before graduating in 2011.  Trey, the only child remaining at home, is 17 and will enter his senior year at Warsaw High School this fall where he is a 3-sport athlete.
Will played for coaches like Jack Downing in Little League, Ken Bowden and Loren Burke in high school and Bill “Chief” Dey as a member of the Sedalia Travelers.  But three years after graduating from WHS in the class of 1989, his fire for the game of baseball still burned.  At that time, he made the decision to enroll at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar and attempt to walk-on as a member of the baseball Bearcats.  As an aged freshman, he won the starting catcher’s job from a senior but after just two years at SBU, an arm injury ended his career.  But Will turned that same love for the game into teaching his daughters and son.  During their youth and even throughout their high school years, the Palmer children were and are actively involved in sports at the competitive level.  For Will and Cathy, their family vacations revolved around ball practices, games and tournaments.  It’s the only life they’ve known, enjoyed and loved.  
That, however, all came to a screeching halt recently.  Not due to Brittany and Megan having children.  Not due to Trey’s spring season being canceled because of the coronavirus.  But in late January, after several months of not feeling well, Will woke up in so much pain that he was vomitting.  He was taken to University Hospital in Columbia on January 24 where a brain tumor was discovered that day.  On January 25, while in surgery to remove the tumor, Will suffered a stroke that left him without use of his left side.  The tumor was deemed to be Stage 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer.  Will spent two weeks at University Hospital and then four additional weeks at Rusk Rehabilitation Hospital, also in Columbia.  
“While Will was at Rusk, our church friends remodeled the house and turned two big closets into a handicap accessible bathroom for us,” Cathy said.  “They also built a wheelchair ramp so that we could get him into the house to be able to do home health occupational and physical therapy.”
While doing the therapy, Will also underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  
“With all of the therapy and, of course, the thoughts and prayers from all of our friends and family, Will has advanced to outpatient physical and occupational therapy and has gained movement in his hip and shoulder,” Cathy stated.  “He is also doing optune therapy to try to manage the cancer.”
Though thoughts and prayers are most appreciated by the Palmer family, other members of Megan’s 2010 state championship softball team wanted to get involved.  Cue Susan Cooner, mother of Megan’s teammate, Caitlyn.  
“The idea of the alumni games came up as a fundraiser for Will because it was an event that would, first and foremost, make Will happy and bring him some joy,” Cooner said.  “And secondly, raise funds to help the family through this very difficult time.”
“There was an abundance of people anxious to do their part to help this wonderful family, not to mention a bunch of really amazing alumni willing to take the field one more time and sacrifice their bodies, in some cases for the ‘love of the game’ and also for Will,” Cooner went on to say.
On Friday night, alumni were invited to get together to “practice” and game day shirts were available for former players at registration.  T-shirts were also made available that evening to anyone else wishing to show their support.
Teams were divided on Friday night by coaches, though the exact science of that process was never divulged.  
However, on the softball side, it appeared to most that Coach Steve Larson attempted to re-assemble his 2010 state championship team, along with a few additional “blue-chip” prospects.  On Coach Dennis Larson’s side, it looked like he had the “younger” guns and some more recent graduates, sprinkled with some top-notch “athletes” from fields past.  
Graduation years represented for softball ranged from 1996-2020.  Players included: Haeley (Kreisel) Eichler, Megan (Palmer) Daleske, Brooklyn Hetherington, Danielle Stackhouse, Aubrey Grenoble, Kelli (Wenberg) Eierman, Catherine Plakorus, Caitlyn (Cooner) Bruss, Charlotte Beck, Kya Schepker, Rayni Simons, Payton Adair, Payge Adair, Jenny (Bloess) Greene, Kylie McRoberts, Geni (Howe) Harms, Mindi (Howe) Ruby, Emmi (Howe) Smith, Joelene Weter, Shiree (Weter) Sherrill and Madison Grobe.
“It was funny to cheer for the games because they were all ‘ours’,” Cathy said.  “During the softball game, we expected to cheer for the 2010 girls because that was Megan’s team, but we’ve been cheering for the 2020 girls for so many years, and the Howe girls are practically family because all of the time that we spent with them while Brittany and Geni were playing together . . . we couldn’t cheer against them.  So we cheered for both teams.”
For the baseball squads, former Wildcat coach John Eierman stacked a team led by current coach Johnny Eierman and his former teammates, while son and younger brother Jeremy Eierman appeared to take the players that he teamed up with en route to the state semifinals just a few years ago. 
Graduation years represented for baseball ranged from 1991-2020.  Players included: Joe Aguayo, Trey Palmer, Joey Mace, Johnny Eierman, Shane Simons, Bailey Jelinek, Joey Cooner, Seth Chiles, Luke Spry, Brad Jelinek, Cash Miller, Riley Bagley, Hunter Bagley, Gage Boise, Mike Ragsdale, Myles Edwards, Tyler Davis, Logan Smith, Devon Dewitt, Wayne Day, Ryan Spry, Terry Swift and Grayson Gregrich.  
“The baseball game was more competitive,” Cathy stated.  “Although they weren’t supposed to be keeping score, the guys were playing to win.  The pitchers threw like they were in the championship game and everyone was giving everything they had.”
“Will was glad that Trey got to play in his place,” Cathy added.  “He told Trey, ‘listen to the guys in the dugout; you’ll hear a lot of wisdom from those guys’.  Trey had a blast and will carry the confidence of getting a base hit off of Joey Cooner for a long time.”
Several additional activities helped to highlight the event, including a silent auction with items donated by players, individuals, families and businesses: Benton County Tire, Taco Villa, El Camino Real, Country Charm and Sonic and a concession stand.  Other sponsors of the event included: Ambrose Park, Benton County Tire, McDonald’s of Warsaw, Miss Gail’s Play & Learn and Ty Payne.  
A Happy Hour was sponsored by The Landing for players and their guests following the games on Saturday evening and a slo-pitch softball tournament was also hosted by the local Torque Fastpitch softball organization on Sunday as a joint fundraiser for the family. 
A signed photo of the ladies team was presented to Will and the brightest spot for all fans was the moment that Will wowed the crowd with a perfect strike while throwing out the first pitch of the baseball game.  The moment was marked even more special by Trey being behind the plate to receive the ball and then present it to his dad.  The ball was signed by all baseball players there that day.  
“We couldn’t have pulled it off without all of the help we had,” Cooner said.  “From the city and it’s Parks crew getting the fields looking good to all of the help that the 2010 Lady Cats were . . . then we had all of the donors and volunteers . . . the players, the parents, the fans . . . It took them all!”
“I think everyone had a great time and Will really enjoyed being at the field again and watching softball and baseball,” Cathy said.  “After having to miss watching Trey play his junior season, he was really bummed, so getting to spend the day at the fields really lifted his spirits.”
That sounds like a fun and successful day.  Wouldn’t you agree?