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This East Dubuque coach is supporting his players and students as they face their toughest battle

A good coach can change a game but a great coach can change a life. That is exactly what the East Dubuque High School basketball coach is doing for a former student.

DUBUQUE, Iowa — The world knows that cancer is a life-changing diagnosis that can shake a person to their core. For this week's "Pay It Forward" award, Ascentra Credit Union and WQAD have highlighted the work of a basketball coach who is working to make life easier for a woman named Rachel. 

“She is a tough cookie,” Vicky Sutter said about her stepdaughter, Rachel. “She has been battling triple negative bilateral carcinoma breast cancer.”

With weekly Thursday chemo treatments, Rachel's tough journey has lasted for a little over a year and a half.

"And those are long weekends for her to get through," Vicky said. 

Rachel has a strong support system around her that not only includes her family but her community.

Vicky told her physical therapist Scott Schaber about Rachel's journey. Scott, who is also the coach for the East Dubuque High School boys’ basketball team, immediately knew he wanted to help.

The boys’ basketball does a blackout cancer awareness game every year, but this was the first year that they personally gave proceeds to one person. To make it even more special, Rachel and her husband, Tim, are both graduates of East Dubuque Highs School.

“Coach [reached] out to all the parents, asking them to do three or four auction baskets. We were going to hold a 50/50 raffle and all [the] benefits [and] all [the] proceeds would benefit Rachel and her family,” said Vicky. “She is still actively in her chemo treatments, so the fundraising is to help her get through those tough times. We don’t want her to have to [struggle] finically she has enough struggles ahead of her … she was just retested shortly ago and her chemo treatments will remain.”

It was an especially emotional night for one of Scott’s players — Rachel's brother Colin Sutter. 

“I had a lot to think about, especially with a big conference game right after all this," said Colin. "So we did like the ceremony and everything right and that got me emotional and ready to play.”

Colin said he and his sister are very close.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t live together much, she was only with us every other weekend, and the weekends that she was with we went all over the place," said Colin. "[We] went to waterparks, ice cream shops, you name it we went there together.”

The fundraiser was more successful than they could have imagined. There ended up being 13 baskets donated including a basket from the opposing team Scales Mound.

However, this wasn’t a surprise to Scott. 

“There is a rivalry but when there’s a need, and it's usually within the community or within the school system, I think both schools would be the first one to volunteer for each other,” said Scott.

The fundraiser raised just under $9,000, the most that the team has ever raised in one of these events.

When presented with the "Pay It Forward" award, Scott didn’t take any credit for the fundraiser. 

“I’m humbled but really it was team effort … when you put on an event like this it takes a team, and we have a heck of a team,” said Scott.

Scott has a personal connection to the experience Colin, Rachel and the rest of their family are going through.

“I lost a player who succumbed to cancer at age 20, and I promised him that I would carry something out every year," said Scott. "So, it’s a very personal and kind of a big moment for me as well because I always remember him all the time.”

Scott cares deeply about his players. For him, being a player isn't just part of his life for a basketball season. Whenever someone plays for him, they're a part of his family for life, he’ll always be there for them.

To form these life connections, he has to connect with his players on and off the court. He checks in on his players at the start of every practice by asking them, “How are you doing today?” That's because it creates a better connection. He said you have no idea what players are going through.

There are life lessons that Scott tries to instill into his players, one of them being selfless service. 

“I tell the guys all the time selfless service is the rent we pay to live on this earth and then to pay it forward,” said Scott.

 Another life lesson he said is, “as you get older you tend to lose more, right? So, it’s one of those things where you can always help out, there’s always an alternative, your glass can always be half full or half empty and you can be a part of that half full.”

Although East Dubuque didn’t win the game that night, it was still a success. 

“I think the good that came out of that didn’t matter if we won or lost the game. Like I think everybody was leaving a winner that night” said Scott.

Scott has forever impacted the Sutter family

“He’s just a stand-up guy. He does everything for everybody else, he would never look for the limelight on him” said Vicky.

“Scott means a lot to me. I might have only had him as a coach for one year, but he really impacted me and all of us” said Colin.

Those who would like to help Rachel through her journey can take all of their scraps to TNT in East Dubuque on Saturday, April 22. All of the proceeds will go to her.

Do you know someone that goes above and beyond for his or her community? News 8 and Ascentra Credit Union would like to help you Pay it Forward to them. Click here to nominate someone you know.

Watch more Pay It Forward stories on News 8's YouTube channel

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