"We love the idea of playing in front of friends / family, and raising money for someone who really needs it." - Ben Braymer
By April & Paul Jendrasiak
The Grand Haven Gringo's are a group of guys who love the ice, outdoor adventures, and have hearts of solid gold. Each year these kind-hearted men gather together to host a Charity Hockey Event that benefits someone in need living in our Lakeshore community.
Paul and I wanted to take the time to not just recognize the awesome work the Grand Haven Gringo's put into helping others but to also encourage our readers to head out and show their support for this great cause. I had the opportunity to chat with the Grand Haven Gringo's Event Organizer, Ben Braymer. Here is what he had to say about this year's recipient...
This years recipient is 33 year old Shannon, wife of Justin and Mother to Selah (18 months). She has been fighting a long, hard battle against Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) this year. - an aggressive, fast-growing form of cancer in the blood and bone marrow. The treatment for this type of cancer is 1) hard hitting chemotherapy intended to knock down the leukemia and then 2) a stem cell transplant to completely replace her bone marrow.
The awesome news is that her brother, Mark, is a perfect stem cell donor match! The unfortunate news is that she has a very rare type of AML that has proven very difficult to knock down, which means she has not been able to proceed to the transplant.
Justin and Shannon live in West Michigan and, up until now, Shannon was able to pursue treatment right here in Grand Rapids. However, after ten unsuccessful rounds of chemo, one life threatening systemic infection and surgery, an acute cardiac arrest and subsequent kidney failure, multiple blood transfusions, and many weeks away from her baby, she is still fighting this war! Her care team here in Grand Rapids recently referred her to a cancer treatment center in Texas. So, on November 6th, ten months to the day that Shannon started treatment here in Grand Rapids, she and Justin flew to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston with the hope that one of the clinical trials they are doing there will help her beat this ugly disease. When they arrived in Houston, they found that Shannon's kidneys are not working as well as hoped, thus preventing her from enrolling in a clinical trial at this time. Instead, she has had to face yet one more round of chemo in hopes of knocking down the leukemia enough that her kidney function improves and she can qualify for the clinical trial. This means they will need to stay in TX for the foreseeable future.
Tell me about the Grand Haven Gringos. Who are you guys anyway?
A group of friends that play hockey together. Many of us are friends through Great Lakes surfing, kite surfing, and other outdoor pursuits that all happen to be hockey players as well.
Where did you come up with your name, Grand Haven Gringos?
A few of us went to Costa Rica about 10 years ago, and we were the pasty white Michigan guys whooting and cheering each other on in the surf, so we started to nickname ourselves "Team Gringo." The name kind of stuck and when we started to play hockey in the outdoor pond hockey tournament up in St. Ignace we thought Grand Haven Gringos had a nice ring.
What is your event and who does your event benefit? What percentage of the proceeds are given to the recipient?
It's basically just a hockey game, it benefits a different family or organization each year. 100% of the proceeds go to the recipient. We pay the West Michigan Burnerz a discounted rate to perform. That is about 300 bucks off the top of funds, but I buy the posters, friends and family all volunteer to sell tickets, sponsors donate raffle items, and the players pay for the ice fee.
What are some things you do to keep your team motivated and inspired?
I haven't had to worry about that much yet. We love the idea of playing in front of friends / family, and raising money for someone who really needs it. That seems to be motivating enough to keep us coming back. Plus, many of us are friends through other avenues of life, so we are kind of an extended Gringo family. :-)
Is this the first year you've done this type of event? If not, tell us about past recipients, events, etc.
This will be our 3rd year. A few years back I was invited to play in an alumni football game in my hometown. So many people came to the game it got me thinking about doing a hockey game. Plus, being a teacher I've seen and been to many other fundraising events for families. I have always loved hockey, and found out about the Guns and Hoses benefit hockey games put on by police and firefighters around the region. I just thought, I want to create my own game and be able to have fun and help families and organizations that I know of.
Why are you hosting your event in Holland and not Grand Haven?
Simple, no ice rink in Grand Haven. We would love to have one though. I've always thought Grand Haven could have a semi outdoor rink with a chiller unit like the one in South Haven. That would be perfect for a fundraising hockey game. Currently, the only rink in Grand Haven is the parking lot at Mulligan's Hollow. I also teach in Zeeland and have a fantastic network of people from down there that show up to donate to just about anyone in need. It's truly inspiring how people around West Michigan are so generous. It's definitely a cultural thing that we can be very proud of!
Where can we learn more about the Gringo's? Website? Facebook page?
Each year we put together a Facebook event page for our game. Currently, we don't have any webpage. We are just a group of friends that love hockey and doing good things for others.
Why do you and the Gringo's love Grand Haven?
It's a beautiful community on the lakeshore that always has something going on. We are just glad to be part of the fun of living here.
In case you were wondering who these men are, here's the Team Roster: Beau Braymer, Hayden Gerwig, Mike Risko, Brian Sikkema, Ben Braymer, Rick Nason, Steven Wells, Ryan Hooker, Shane, Nick Witkowski, Mike Sispera, Nathan Patterson, Andy Telman, Darrick Brown, Andrew Smith, Andy Lemke, Brian Snyder, and Kory Karlander. If you should happen to recognize anyone on this list or see one of them out and about around town, buy them a coffee or better yet, buy them a beer, give them a high-five and a smile for miles... because the world needs good people like the Gringo's.
The event is being held Saturday, February 4th at 7:00pm at Griff's Icehouse West in Holland, MI. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Entertainment provided by West Michigan Burnerz along with a Silent Auction and Chuck-a-Puck contest.