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Once a Blue Duke, always a Blue Duke.

Former Whitefish Bay Junior Dukes football and basketball coach Mike Sanders and his wife, Elizabeth, have been away from the village for about four years having settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but their old friends have not forgotten them.

Especially now.

Because another fall football season is upon us, and the Blue Duke gridiron community is again mourning the loss of one of its own as Sanders, 34, succumbed to metastatic sarcoma, a cancer of the long bones, at his home in Michigan on July 26.  A survivor of childhood cancer, Sanders received the diagnosis two years ago.

"Mike was a mid-20s transplant to Bay who lived life with enthusiasm and vigor," said Bay booster and PA announcer at soccer games Harry Moulopoulos. "All around great guy."

Sanders and Elizabeth had no children of their own, Moulopoulos said.

"Yet (he) made a huge commitment to volunteer to be the head coach of a fifth-grade Junior Dukes football team, the group that just graduated (from high school)," Moulopoulos added.

That storied and tight-knit group took a major emotional hit, as did the entire Bay and state football community, when long-time Bay head coach Jim Tietjen passed late last fall from a form of brain cancer. A team leader, Van Bassindale, spoke fondly of experiences working with Sanders.

"Coach Sanders was my fifth-grade football coach in Whitefish Bay," said Bassindale in a memory posted on Sanders' obituary page. "He introduced my class to the game ... I am blessed and thankful to coach for teaching us the game we love and for teaching us the value of hard work. His lessons paid off for our success in middle school and high school, and we are forever grateful for his effort in educating us as men and as players. Thank you forever coach, rest in peace."

Longtime Bay backer and supporter of the youth athletic programs, Carl Fuda, was also gratified by Sanders' sense of community and involvement.

"The best thing to say, is that he was new to the community, and he wanted to help," Fuda said. "He wanted to work with the kids. The way he related to the kids and took on the duties of being a coach was just outstanding. He wasn't a parent, but he wanted to help out."

Always a competitor, Sanders agreed to go in for clinical trials involving immunotherapy, which suppressed the disease for a time but not permanently. In a detailed update of his condition written some time ago, he noted with characteristic selflessness: "They (the doctors) couldn't make promises it will make a positive change. I was willing to make a personal sacrifice with the understanding you might help others if not yourself."

Involved in the food service industry for most his adult life, Sanders' loyalty remained with Bay even after he left. His obituary photo featured him dressed in a Bay hooded sweatshirt. He and Elizabeth were married for 12 years, and he is also survived by his mother, Mary Beth, among many other relatives.

"I have no other words at this time except he was a wonderful husband, an inspiring coach and a loyal friend," wrote Elizabeth in an email to close friends and family.

Sanders was a 2004 University of Michigan graduate (a hat featuring the school is firmly planted on his head in that same obit photo) with a dual major in history and political science. He also earned a masters from Indiana University in 2014.

He ended his work career as a manager at Gordon Food Service.

The obit reflected his many passions: "Mike was happiest when coaching or competing. He earned a second degree black belt in judo and treasured his time as a youth coach in Whitefish Bay. He was a loyal friend, a loving husband and a wonderful coach. His legacy as a fierce competitor, avid supporter of all he loved and engaging physical presence will live on through all who knew him."

Services were held July 30 at St. Andrew's Episcopol Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Memorial contributions may be made to the family, Godai Judo, the YMCA or the American Cancer Society.

"All in all, just a great guy," Fuda said. "He wasn't interested in anything else but helping out."

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