November 2, 2018 marks the Silver Anniversary, or 25th year, of a special volleyball marathon.
The volleyball marathon began in 1994 with the vision that with each year, the money raised would be donated to a different charity. However, it was only the second year of the marathon when they decided from there on out, Make-A-Wish would be their receiving charity. Bill Knittig, a faithful member of Caanan Baptist Church and the lead behind the volleyball tournament, said that it was what took place after the marathon that prompted them to decide they were going to choose to benefit Make-A-Wish every year.
“Two weeks after the first marathon benefiting Make-A-Wish was over, I was in church and an elderly lady came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. She asked if my name was Bill and I said yes. And then she said, ‘Well, I’m Katelyn’s grandmother and I’m a member of your own church here. I quit going to church two years ago when my granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer.”
It was then that Bill realized their first wish child was right there in their own church community. “Not only did we get to help Katelyn with her wish, but we also helped her family. When I shared that story with my group I was a part of they said, ‘Okay, we’re doing Make-A-Wish every year,’” Bill laughed.
Since the marathon’s inception, it has raised over $130,000 for Make-A-Wish Missouri & Kansas, helping grant 26 wishes to children battling critical illnesses. Out of those 26 wishes, over 50% of them have had a direct relationship to the Caanan Baptist Church community.
Whether it was a wish child on the same high school soccer team as church members, or a church member’s daughter approaching her about a sick friend at school, Bill has countless examples to share of the impact.
When it came time to share his fondest memory of all 25 years, Bill didn’t hesitate. “It was 2005 and there was a young girl named Madison. Madison’s wish was for a playground for her friends, so her friends could play. When the marathon was over that year, Frank, one of our church members who owned a construction company, came up with the idea to build it so there wouldn’t be any labor costs. So, a bunch of us from our church and other churches got together. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving that all these men came together from different churches. It wasn’t about religion—it was all about Madison.” (Frank pictured above with Madison)
Bill reflects on that frigid day. Madison came out with her family and watched as communities worked together to construct her wish into reality. Madison passed away about a week later, the playground standing as a reminder of the impact her wish had.
“I tell people at church that it’s the ripple effect. When you throw that stone into the water, there is the first impact that’s the biggest one—the wish child. But then watch how that ripples and those ripples are all the other people who are effected.”
Bill shares another favorite story and is sure to share the reminder that it’s hard for him to pick just one memory.
“One year there was a sister of the wish child that had never played volleyball before. She shows up for the marathon the next year, finds me and says, ‘Look!’ She’s wearing a high school volleyball jersey. So, her sister had a wish granted, but the volleyball marathon also changed her life because it gave her a new avenue in school.”
When it comes time for the volleyball marathon weekend, it takes a community of people to fill the court year after year.
Caanan Baptist Church has a team that plays on the court every hour. Outside teams come and play them and pay a minimum of $15 a player, though they are welcome to pay more. In addition to the volleyball, every year they have a silent auction and food donated for the entire 24 hours. “You can come off the street and say you just want to watch and you’ll have free food the whole time.”
As for Bill, he is there the entire time, his passion acting as adrenaline to carry him through until the end. “Am I there the whole 24 hours? Yes. Do I play for the whole 24 hours? No. Could I do it 25 years ago? Yes.” Bill laughed. By the time Bill wakes up for work on Friday and gets home on Saturday, he is awake for almost 40 hours. Yet, Bill is as passionate as he was 25 years ago.
When thinking about what the volleyball marathon looks like in the future, Bill says he has a wish himself. “My wish has always been to get other churches or groups to do the same thing and hold a volleyball marathon on the first weekend of November. How much could we raise in one 24-hour period when we all focus on the same thing?”
And on Sunday morning, even after the volleyball marathon is over, the community effort is still alive. Church attendees that couldn’t attend the marathon ask how they did and according to Bill, 9 times out of 10, they raise anywhere from $500-$2,000 on Sunday morning.
“You don’t have to play volleyball. If you just believe in the power of a wish, there’s an opportunity for you to come to help us raise our goal and help us make a difference in the lives of these kids.”
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Bill says every year they have shirts made. One year, the shirt had a lamp, a wand, and a volleyball. On the front it read: A genie uses a lamp. A fairy godmother uses a wand. And on the back, it read: We use a volleyball to grant a wish.
Bill welcomes anybody and everybody to join them on the court on November 2nd at 6:30 p.m. from November 3rd at 6:30 p.m. at Caanan Baptist Church, 5409 Baumgartner Rd. St. Louis, MO 63129.
“The impact transcends beyond just the marathon. The marathon is just a conduit for the miracles that happen. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”