Handicap no boundry; Banak makes the day

By Thom Gippert

Mark Banak knows his football and dreams of being a head coach in the NFL.

Currently though, Banak is one of the student equipment managers for the NIU football team and he can be seen throwing passes, joking around with players and observing practice as if he were a coach.

The one thing that separates Banak from the rest of the team, however, is that he has cerebral palsy.

Banak’s main responsibility with the Huskies is to make sure practices run according to the schedule set up by the coaches. The sophomore out of Chicago also helps the other equipment managers with their responsibilities before and after practice.

Banak is no stranger to the game of football because while attending Gordon Tech High School, Banak was the student-manager for both football and baseball. Even though his handicap has prohibited him from actually competing on the team, being involved in any way is fine with Banak.

One of the best things for Banak is his rapport with the players and coaches.

“I get along great with everyone, they treat me as who I am, not by what I have,” Banak said.

Banak is known to the players as always being in a great mood.

“He’s always happy, when you come out and you’re in a bad mood he cheers you up. You don’t even think of his handicap,” said fullback Chris Montgomery.

Regardless of his handicap, Banak still gets the job done day in and day out.

“There are some things like lifting heavy things that he can’t do, but he makes up for it in so many ways,” said Bob Heimerdinger, equipment manager and Banak’s supervisor.

Fellow student manager John Kemnitz agreed.

“He does everything you ask and more, and in his mind there’s no job he can’t accomplish,” Kemnitz said.

Banak is majoring in Physical Education and would like to eventually get into coaching. In the mean time though, Banak watches practice and can see the team improving.

“I keep telling Coach Pettibone (NIU’s head coach) that the program is on the way up,” Banak said.

Pettibone is another believer that Banak’s handicap doesn’t interfere with his job and in fact he considers him an inspiration.

“He does a great job, his handicap doesn’t hinder his job at all. He’s got a great outlook on life and he’s really an inspiration to me,” Pettibone said.