Lions set fundraiser for O’Neill

FOOTBALL– The Leyden Lions suffered what could be looked at as a devastating 34-10 preseason loss at home to the Racine Raiders on Saturday, but the plight of a little 12-year-old girl puts back into perspective what’s really important to the players, coaches and the community.

And thoughts about the next game will not only focus on avenging that defeat, but also to help that little girl survive a rare disease.

The Lions have been part of a fundraising campaign for Fiona O’Neill — who suffers from a rare blood disorder called Methemoglobinemia Type II — to help her obtain the necessary care and medication she so desperately needs.

The Lions and others began “25 Days for Fiona” earlier this month, and it will culminate with Fiona O’Neill’s Heart of a Lion fundraiser game, against the Twin City Dawgs at Ralph “Babe” Serpico Memorial Field, 1000 N. 25th Ave., Melrose Park, at 7 p.m. Saturday. A ceremony for Fiona will be held prior to the kickoff.

Fiona is the cousin of Lions player James Zilinger, who has observed the struggles that O’Neill has undergone since she was diagnosed with the condition shortly after her birth. Zilinger said he saw his place on the Lions’ roster as an opportunity for him and others to promote awareness of the disease, and to help her family raise much-needed funds for her care.

Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder in which the body cannot recycle hemoglobin after it is damaged. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying molecule found in red blood cells. In some cases of Methemoglobinemia, the hemoglobin is unable to carry oxygen effectively to body tissues. Methemoglobinemia may be passed down through families (inherited) or may result from exposure to certain drugs, chemicals or foods (acquired). Type II, also called generalized reeducates deficiency, occurs when the enzyme does not work anywhere in the body. Type II Methemoglobinemia generally causes death within the first few years of life, but Fiona is fighting a winning battle.

“Watching two dedicated people such as James and his wife, Megan, embracing the importance of this cause made the decision to partner our minor league football team with them an easy one,” said Jose Rodriguez, president/CEO and head coach of the Leyden Lions. “As we combat the Twin City Dawgz on June 27, we realize that methemoglobinemia Type II affects everyone — not just the victims — and our fundraising efforts that day will make a bold assertion that we are here to help in any we that we can. The Leyden Lions will make that declaration by raising awareness and generating the desperately needed finances for Fiona’s continued treatment and medication.”

Proceeds from ticket sales, fan donations at the gate and sales from a game-day raffle will directly benefit Fiona and the Friends of Fiona group. Fans unable to attend the game, or anyone who wants to help, may visit to make a donation. Supporters who subscribe to the social media network Facebook can also add Friends of Fiona to their personal page to learn more about Fiona and her family.

For more information, contact Mike DeCook at (773) 297-0999 or visit the Lions’ Web site at

As for the trouncing at the hands of the nationally ranked Racine Raiders, it was a white-out night the Lions would like to soon wipe out of their memories. Fans were encouraged to wear white to show their support for Leyden, but it had little effect on the Lions, especially on offense.

The Lions’ offense could only muster a total of 52 net yards in the contest while the Raiders racked up 295 and took full advantage of four Lions turnovers. The Raiders also had 20 first downs to Leyden’s four.

The Lions led 3-0 after a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter, but Racine scored a touchdown after a Leyden fumble to take a 7-3 lead just before halftime.

“We played pretty well the first half, but in the second half turnovers and a lack of execution just killed us,” Rodriguez said. “We need to work on timing and some other things, but I think we’ll be OK once the regular season begins.”

Injuries were plentiful, as three Leyden players were affected. The worst came late in the contest when Elmwood Park’s Ryan Dietrich broke his ankle. Previous to that, starter Alex Soto and Abe Shenouda also suffered ankle injuries.

The Lions scored their only touchdown late in the fourth quarter after they trailed 34-3. Leyden lineman Cuffey Roberson intercepted a pass by Racine quarterback Chris Walsh and returned it 67 yards to the Raiders’ 13-yard line. Two plays later, backup quarterback Jondae King — who also plays receiver — hit Rico Maldonado out of the backfield for a 13-yard TD strike.

Starting QB Holcomb finished the night just 2-for-24 in passing, was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. Star running back Ricky Emery of Franklin Park had just 43 yards on 10 carries.

“We had no tempo, no rhythm and no cohesiveness,” said offensive coordinator DeCook. “We expected to dominate this team and instead of taking care of business we got punched in the mouth. We just weren’t executing. We couldn’t do what we usually are able to do and we took a beating.”

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