More than four years ago, there was no reason for Todd Drusback to take pity on Parker Inks. Instead, Drusback took the proactive approach and found a way to include Inks, who has muscular dystrophy, in the community at Fremont St. Joseph. As the football coach of the Crimson Streaks, Drusback designated Inks as the team's ball boy, and Inks would address the team with a motivational quote before each game.
But in March, 2008, Inks was hospitalized and spent nearly a month in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center because of viral pneumonia and a collapsed lung.
"Every day, his dad saw him in the hospital," Drusback said. "His dad kept telling him one thing: 'Keep fighting.' "
That's what Inks did. So did Drusback, who began a fund-raising campaign to help the Inks family with their medical bills, exacerbated by the fact that Inks' mother, Patti, was diagnosed with cancer during his hospital stay.
Inks' recovery -- and the community's response -- provided Drusback with the motivation to establish Parker's Purpose, a charitable foundation that helps families of ill and disabled children who are in need of financial assistance.
Drusback now coaches football at Rossford High School but remains the president of Parker's Promise. The foundation will host its fifth annual Parker's Purpose Dinner and Auction, which begins at 5 p.m. today at Ole Zim's Wagon Shed in Gibsonburg. Rocky Bleier, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 11 seasons, will be the keynote speaker for this year's dinner and auction.
Since 2008, Parker's Purpose has raised more than $63,000 and has helped more than 100 families. Drusback said Parker's Purpose does not target any specific needs or disabilities when it comes to determining its recipients.
"It's very broad, and that's how we wanted it to be," Drusback said.
But the foundation has been overwhelmed with applications for assistance. The demand, he explained, outweighs the supply.
"We get anywhere from 20 to 50 applications a month," Drusback said.
Bleier was a running back who helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls in the late 1970s, and he was a captain at Notre Dame during his senior year in 1967, a year after the Irish won the national title.
Drafted into service in 1968 after his rookie year with the Steelers, he joined the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He was shot in the left thigh during combat and had to have more than 100 pieces of shrapnel from a grenade surgically removed from his right foot and leg.
Bleier earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star but was told by doctors that his football career would be over.
He was cut twice by the Steelers before making the team in 1972. Four years later, he rushed for 1,036 yards. Now, Bleier lives in Pittsburgh and tours the country as a motivational speaker.
Previous keynote speakers have been former Michigan football standout Desmond Howard, former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, and Rudy Ruettiger, whose story inspired the 1993 movie Rudy.
For more information, go to parkerspurpose.net.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.