There are many ways to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis (CF) involving the color purple – or violet, as many perceive it – which is the color designated to represent the rare genetic condition.
Purple ribbons, necklaces, stickers, window stickers, key chains, wrist bans, magnets, bracelets, security lights are some of them.
For Petoskey High School’s football program, purple has primarily been the color used to represent May as Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month, as well as the shade of a team warm-up jersey and even a school uniform. extra football to wear during football tournaments.
That will change on Saturday, October 6, when Elks Rapids and Petoskey meet on the turf at Northmen Stadium.
When they come to Petoskey next weekend, the Elks will be in their visiting white – the same jerseys worn by the Northmen in that early-season game. But the Northmen will not be wearing their traditional blue home jersey. They will be wearing purple, ready to play in what has been dubbed the “purple game” in an effort to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis and help the approximately 30,000 Americans who have it.
The game is about consciousness, not about an individual living with it. The disease has robbed many people of tomorrow – gradually limiting their ability to breathe and tragically shortening life.
However, Kurtis Mainland, one of Petoskey’s top scorers this year, is one of those living with cystic fibrosis. He was diagnosed at DeVos Children’s Hospital with the life-threatening condition when he was 8 months old.
It will be just another game for Mainland. His parents Megan and Ken will be there as well as his older brother Corbin, as he always is. Sister Mackenzie will probably be there too. Kurtis looks forward to the Big North Conference title race and another playoff run.
And unless you know Mainland or he wears number one, you probably have no idea he lives and plays with CF.
He is happy to help raise awareness of the disease with his purple jersey. He doesn’t let illness control him and playing football is normal for him, as is watching over his parents and coach Zach Jonker. Mainland has been coached by the Jonker since he started participating in Petoskey Youth Soccer around 10 years ago, a fact that brings comfort to Mainland’s parents in every practice and game.
Jonker and Kurtis’ parents know that even if the player wearing the purple ‘1’ jersey can’t score against the Elks, he will do the midfield work that can lead the Northmen to another win.
Mainland will only focus on winning. He is much more concerned with the team’s fights than his own and has no interest in getting attention or standing out.
“The only time I really notice that I have CF is in the morning when I do my treatment and in the evening when I take my medication,” he said. “We just have to do what we did at Elk Rapids last time, and we’ll win it.”
Mainland has five goals and five assists as the Northmen are 10-5 overall and 4-1 in Big North. They have a chance to take first place in the conference with a rematch against Traverse City West on Monday – also at home. West is 4-0-1 and beat Petoskey 2-1 in the first meeting. A trip to Alpena, which tied the West on Thursday, will also take place ahead of the Purple Game.
He is having a great senior year despite having CF and is recovering from nose surgery this summer following an accident on a trampoline the previous year.
For Mainland and his parents, the prescription drug Kalydeco has become something of a miracle. It helped him lead a normal life, that’s all he really asks for. He is well aware that other teams, players and referees fail to notice that he is living – and playing the game – with this life-threatening disease.
“It allowed him to play football and be as active as possible, and he doesn’t have reduced lung capacity,” his father said of the drug. “There are people watching him on the soccer field who have no idea he has cystic fibrosis.
“He has the mindset that nothing will slow him down,” Dad continued. “He doesn’t want anything to slow him down, including cystic fibrosis.”
Mom offers another perspective shared by Mainlanders, who prefer to view their son as having a title rather than an illness.
“We say he has cystic fibrosis, but cystic fibrosis doesn’t,” she said. “It doesn’t define who he is and what he can and can’t do.”
The Northmen’s senior day is yet to come. The Purple Game organizers are looking to create greater awareness of CF, not necessarily shine a light on the midfielder who is fighting it.
“I’m not one to come out and defend it and talk about it very publicly,” Mainland said. “I go out like a normal child.
“I’m just playing the game I love and I’ve always played that way,” he continued. “I don’t really notice it.”
Jonker, who also teaches at Petoskey High School, agrees.
“It never hindered his ability to play and contribute,” Jonker said. “He is a fantastic young man from a family dedicated to serving the community.
“It’s the end of his four years, so we thought we’d raise awareness a bit about CF and not specifically about Kurtis’ situation.”
Ken Mainland will make the announcement at the Purple Game, as he has done for years. Megan will coordinate the concessions.
Kurtis Mainland is also an Eagle Scout and his badging projects were improvements to the Petoskey Youth Soccer Association’s Click Road Complex, a site of some of the Northmen’s home games. It is also a place where Kurtis referees youth football matches.
He also holds a leadership position for the Blue Crew, the student chapter that supports Northmen sports teams. He was on the ski team in college, and he’s a golfer in the off-season.
The Mainlands, who consider themselves no different to other parents of footballers, will have their eyes on everything on Saturday.
Viewers say there’s no way anyone with prior knowledge would know that Ken is Kurtis’ father while he’s doing his PA work. As for Megan, that may not be the case.
“We love sports,” Megan said. “It made him grow in many ways.
“Once he was diagnosed – yes it was a success – but it was almost we were relieved because we had answers on how to help our son now,” she continued. “And, we kind of moved on and we haven’t changed a whole lot.”
The Petoskey/Elk Rapids game will be the second meeting this season for the two football teams historically known for long playoff runs. They often meet twice a year, but not in the playoffs as they are in different divisions. Petoskey won Game 1 this fall 1-0 at Elk Rapids, which rebounded from a 1-5-1 start to an overall record of 9-7-1 today.
Kick off for the purple game is at 11:30 a.m. The announcer will inform game participants why Petoskey is wearing the special purple jerseys.
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and has also coached in the Lower Peninsula North Region. He has previously written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for the counties of Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Almost Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet.
PICTURES (Top) Petoskey’s Kurtis Mainland meets up for a shot against Gaylord this week. (Middle) Mainland, second from left, shows off Petoskey’s purple jersey, with his family (from left) Ken, Megan and Corbin Mainland. (Below) Kurtis Mainland works for possession while protecting an opponent. (Top photo courtesy of Dylan Jespersen/Gaylord Herald Timesmiddle courtesy of Zach Jonker and below courtesy of Drew Kochanny/Petoskey Press Review.)
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