By Tim Petermann, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (blugolds.com) - Michelle (Burns) O'Connell, who was the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) basketball player of the year in 2008, is the recipient of the 2018 Sandy Schumacher Courage Award.
The award will be presented at the UW-Eau Claire Blugold Hall of Fame banquet Friday, October 5. The banquet is open to the public and tickets, which are $25, can be obtained by contacting the UWEC Alumni Office at 715 836-3266 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The awards program will begin at 6:30 p.m. preceded by a social at 4:30 p.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m.
The Sandy Schumacher Courage Award was established in the fall of 2012 to honor the long-time Blugold coach, teacher and pioneer. Schumacher was an advocate for young girls and women in athletics and had a role in starting numerous athletics programs for women on the UWEC campus. She also conducted the first volleyball and basketball camps for girls.
Schumacher, who was inducted into the Blugold Hall of Fame in 1995, battled cancer for more than two decades but lost her battle in 2011. Even in the months prior to her death, Schumacher could be found on the Blugold sidelines, intently watching the action.
The Sandy Schumacher Courage Award is presented to a female Blugold student-athlete or alumna who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event.
O'Connell, who prepped at Eau Claire North High School, is currently a teacher at Spooner Middle School and formerly the head basketball coach at Spooner High School. In July, 2017, O'Connell found a lump in her right breast. A biopsy came back with two of the spots showing cancer cells. In August, she found out that she had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). The doctors classified it as Stage 2 breast cancer. O'Connell went through six treatments of chemotherapy followed by 25 radiation treatments, a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and maintenance chemotherapy. This past February, the doctor told O'Connell that she is cancer free. She finished her maintenance chemo treatments August 21 and returned to teaching at Spooner Middle School this fall. O'Connell's mother Lynn Burns is also a cancer survivor, having gone through chemotherapy the summer of 2008 after O'Connell's senior year of college.
Blugold women's basketball coach Tonja Englund said "Michelle was an absolute inspiration to everyone in her life by the way she completely attacked the cancer diagnosis with an amazing attitude and the sheer will that made her such a great basketball player and tremendous human being during her career." O'Connell was a four-year starter for Englund, scoring 1,230 points and grabbing 664 rebounds in 100 career games. She accomplished those totals despite missing 11 games her sophomore season with a broken thumb. She was a two-time All-Conference first team selection and also was named to the All-Conference Defense team as a sophomore. She was the WIAC Judy Kruckman Scholar-Athlete for women's basketball as a senior when she led the team to a share of the conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. She still ranks among the top 10 in at least seven different Blugold career statistical categories.
O'Connell and her husband Ryan are parents of two children: Maddie and Mason.
The previous Schumacher award winners were Liz Amici, Callie Halama, Reece Krings, Renee Cook Smith, Nicole Christianson, Nancy Tietz Lovaas, Megan Hanson and Julie Bobbe Stodola.