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Women’s basketball team hopes for record crowd against UW-Whitewater

February 11, 2015

Last September, the Student Voice wrote a story about UW-River Falls women’s basketball Assistant Coach Mike Babler’s grandson, Leo, and his fight against an extremely rare genetic disorder called Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata (RCDP), which is a form of dwarfism and is said to be a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia.

Leo has been doing well since September. He recently went in for his fifth eye surgery because of a protein buildup, and has been having issues with his shoulder because of a calcium disorder that is part of the disease.

In order for Leo to maintain a healthy life, medical expenses have risen which is why the family started the Leo Lionhearted Fund on gofundme.com. Since September, the fund has raised over $14,000 and has had over 2,000 shares via Facebook and other social media platforms.

In September, the UWRF volleyball team held the “Lionhearted game,” where fans were encouraged to buy a Leo Lionhearted Fund t-shirt for $15 and all of the proceeds from the game went to Leo and his family.

On the day of love, Valentine’s day, the women’s basketball team will be taking the court for the “Red Out for Leo” basketball game against the visiting UW-Whitewater Warhawks.

Not only will the game be for a good cause, but it will also be the Falcons’ last home game of the regular season as the team is in a tight battle to be one of the top six teams to make the WIAC playoffs.

It wasn’t a coincidence that the Red Out for Leo game is on Valentine’s day.

“Through this whole thing I have noticed how much people care–whether you know the person or not–so I think showing up to this event on Valentine’s Day would be a great way to show love, not just for Leo, but for the whole family,” Babler said.

During the Red Out for Leo game, shirts will be sold for $15 as well as a silent auction during the night of the event. Sixteen local businesses are doing their part for the silent auctions donating various things such as one month of free fitness memberships from Anytime Fitness, a free pizza from Pizza Hut and 12 cupcakes that include a $30 gift certificate to Cakes by Crystal.

Babler wants to make the game even more special by setting a new program record. Babler’s goal is to break the women’s basketball all-time attendance record that currently stands at 681 people.

Junior captain guard Richell Mehus said the community wants to do their part in helping Leo and his family.

“A lot of people have bought the red Leo shirts,” Mehus said. “The high school did a game for Leo too and raised a lot of money. This game, many people have offered to donate money for each spectator that attends the game if we break the record of 681.”

Players on the team also want to help Babler and Leo out as much as they can. Sophomore forward Kate Theisen says it’s the least the team can do.

“It is such a huge honor to be able to support Leo and be apart of his journey,” Theisen said.

The Falcons are currently in seventh place in the WIAC, but only one win separates the Falcons from being a playoff team. The young Falcons have only three games left in the regular season, and the team likely needs to win two of three to make the WIAC playoffs.

“The only thing we can control is us, so we need to take care of the ball, do what we are capable of doing, and the rest will play out,” Mehus said.

With an overall record of 9-13, the Falcons also have a chance of making the playoffs if it comes down to a tiebreaker situation.

UWRF earned a hard-fought, much needed victory on Wednesday, Feb. 11, against UW-Stout at the Karges Center. The Falcons prevailed 51-49, with Theisen leading all scorers with 16 points; Mehus, meanwhile, added 12 of her own. With the win, UWRF sits one game behind Whitewater for the sixth and final WIAC playoff spot.

To donate to the Lionhearted Fund you can visit: http://www.gofundme.com/cfgmts. Donations for the silent auction can be dropped off at the athletics department prior to the game.