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Shaymus, WIU Athletics, and Family

Editors Note:  This is the first blog I ever published and shared almost four years ago. As WIU goes through another Head Football coaching change with Charlie Fisher (who I think is a man of integrity) it seems like a good time to bring this back out. Especially given the pandemonium and polarity plaguing our society and communities right now. Sometimes it is good to take a step back, block out all the noise and get some perspective. I think channeling an 11 year old's spirit, who exhibited more courage than about anyone I have ever met is a good way to inspire that quiet contemplation. Athletics for me has always been a metaphor for life. Shaymus reminds us that Athletics is about "Family, Faith, and Hope". I challenge you to go out and do something to make the world a better place today or this week so we can leave it better than we found it--like Shaymus did. Get involved in the community or an organization---or just do a Random Act of Kindness--just do something. The world needs this now more than ever. I think Shaymus understood life better than many of us adults and I would hope we would remember him in death as we did when he was a living breathing part of this community. He should never be forgotten on this campus or in this community. That sense of community is what makes Macomb and Western Illinois University special. I know I will be raising at toast to him at the first tailgate. I have attached a link to the Foundation set up in his name if you are interested in learning more about it. It is one of the many marks he left in life.

This past Wednesday afternoon started out as one of the more exciting in recent memory for the Western Illinois University Athletic department.  A jam packed two o’clock press conference gathered in the Prairie Lounge at the University Union to usher in a new era of Leatherneck Football.  Community and university gathered together to welcome new head coach Bob Nielson to Macomb as the chosen one to lead a lagging program back to its glory days.  With a pedigree that includes two national championships at the Division II level to accompany decades of winning football under his watch, the new coach created a buzz that has been missing for a long time.  The “announcement” combined with the recent success of basketball, including an upset of the red hot UIC Flames Tuesday night that garnered positive press across the region and you have a fan base that was practically bursting.  

Then a little after Four o’clock it was all overshadowed by the announcement that one of the Leatherneck's own had passed away.  Shaymus Guinn, 11 year old son of former WIU Women’s Soccer Coach Tony Guinn, succumb to his long bout with Ewings Sarcoma. Shaymus touched the life of almost everyone affiliated with the Western Illinois University athletic program over the past four years.  His well documented battle brought town and gown together on numerous occasions to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help in support of his recovery. 

Several weeks ago I received an email, as many others did, indicating Shaymus wanted individuals like me, who he had touched, to consider buying a Christmas toy for other children in his hospital ward that didn’t have the same kind of support he had received from an extended family that comes from a father’s life in athletics. I marvel how he was unselfish to the very end and intend to honor his last request (as I hope many others do as well). 

I also can’t help but think of the juxtaposition of these two events yesterday.  A crescendo of excitement that has been dormant for many winters and the sudden heart breaking crash upon hearing the news that many prayed would never come. We can all take note this Christmas season on how Shaymus lived his life, including his love for trains, penguins, and art as well as his compassion for all those around him.  He was selfless, giving, and upbeat despite what life dealt him. As Coach Bob Nielson joins the Leatherneck family I hope he is able to point to Shaymus as an example of the spirit that we all hope would embody our athletics program.With high expectations for the resurrection of a beleaguered program maybe he can channel a little boy’s spirit and determination to mold the young men on the team he is inheriting to be the role models we so desperately need them to be today.  It would be a fitting final tribute to one of the greatest warriors our athletic program has known throughout the years.

The last time I was with Coach Guinn was shortly before he moved to Wisconsin.  My wife at the time and I were having a night cap with him and his assistant coach Marianna Sanchez at a local restaurant.  Everyone had left and he was speaking enthusiastically about moving closer to Shaymus and how grateful he was for the support of the Macomb community and WIU throughout all the trials and tribulations.  Right before we left he went and fetched his guitar and in a beautiful, tenor, Irish voice with tears in his eyes he sang “Danny Boy” and we parted.  I listened to that song today as I wrote this and was reminded that the final lines read like this:

And I shall Hear, tho' soft ye tred above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep until you come to me

Tonight my thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Guinn and his family.  I can't even imagine that kind of grief and heartache, but I take solace in the belief that sitting next to a golden throne in Heaven tonight is a young lad with no pain, whose Irish eyes are smiling, looking down, and singing his own version of "Danny Boy" in order to bring some comfort to those many he touched on a long, cold winters night.

Coach Tony Guinn with Shaymus


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