Sigelman bonds with Jerry KillPublished 10:33am Monday, July 4, 2011
New Minnesota Gopher football coach Jerry Kill hasn’t even coached his team in one regular-season game. However, he’s already endeared himself to many people in Fergus Falls, including me.
That’s because he willingly and unselfishly came to bat for the son of Fergus Falls native and 1957 FFHS grad Mike Sigelman.
In March Mike’s son, 41-year-old Sam Sigelman of Minneapolis, discovered he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, kidney cancer. The younger Sigelman knew that coach Kill had previously been diagnosed with some type of cancer.
Sam thought it highly unlikely that Kill would have been diagnosed with the same type of cancer he had. But lo and behold, Sam learned through the Internet that Jerry Kill had indeed survived kidney cancer.
At the end of the 2005 football season, while coaching at Southern Illinois University, Kill had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his kidney. Together with Southern Illinois Healthcare, Coach Kill and his wife, Rebecca, formed the Coach Kill Cancer Fund. The fund assists southern Illinois patients and their families with medical costs and other associated expenses.
“I’ll never forget the day I learned about being diagnosed with cancer. Emotionally, it was a really tough day,” said Sigelman. “I had hope, however, learning that coach Kill had not only survived kidney cancer but also had thrived as a football coach.”
Sigelman, a Twin Cities attorney, e-mailed coach Kill and related his story. He did not expect much of a response.
To Sigelman’s surprise, the very next morning, he received a lengthy voice message from coach Kill, who encouraged Sigelman to maintain a positive attitude during a tough time period. Coach Kill also mentioned it would be helpful to meet and chat about their shared circumstances.
“I couldn’t believe it when coach Kill said he wanted to meet me,” said Sigelman. “We later met in his office at the U of M football offices. Busy as we was, he spent a half hour with me. This meant a lot to me, because coach Kill knew what I was going through.”
Kill kept in touch with Sigelman, before and after Sam had surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“Coach Kill even called me the day before I had surgery,” he said. “He was really encouraging. This also meant a lot to my wife, Megan. Our sons, Milo, 5, and Ari, 3, are a little too young to understand the full impact of what I went through.”
Sigelman is cancer-free after the major surgery at the Mayo Clinic in late March.
“Coach Kill and Sam have a special friendship,” said Darren Wolfson of Channel 5 Eyewitness News, Minneapolis. “One kidney cancer survivor getting to know another.”
On April 28, coach Kill was the keynote speaker at a luncheon sponsored by Sigelman’s law firm, Lindquist & Vennum. Sigelman made the introduction at a conference room at TCF Stadium, home of the Golden Gophers football team.
“When Sam e-mailed me, I think he was surprised I called him, because it was during a pretty busy time,” said Kill, during an interview with Channel 5. “Meeting Sam put life back into perspective for me. I think we leaned on each other, together.”
Kill told Sigelman he had to mentally approach each day as game day, as in football. “Be strong and you’ll be okay. Lean on your family and your faith.”
Sigelman, in addition to work at his law firm, serves as vice president of the Hamline University School of Law Alumni Board. Before pursuing his law degree, he was a producer for the Twin Cities sports-radio station KFAN and for ABC/ESPN, where he earned a sports Emmy nomination for his work on ESPN baseball broadcasts.
His parents, Mike and Judy Sigelman, live in Golden Valley. He has two brothers.