PULLMAN – Steve Gleason will be inducted into the Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame tomorrow as the sole member of the 2014 class. The unprecedented move of recognizing just one former WSU athlete will take place between the first and second quarters of Saturday’s game against rival Washington.
“Steve is a tremendous Cougar and his induction Saturday night into the Washington State University Athletic Hall of Fame is well deserved,” said WSU athletic director Bill Moos in a statement. “With a sold-out Martin Stadium for the Apple Cup, I can think of no better setting to highlight Steve’s accomplishments than in front of a fan base that has admired him for so many years.”
Gleason was a four-year letter winner for the Cougars from 1995-99 in both football and baseball. He was a three-time All-Conference honoree in football and finished his career with 282 tackles before beginning a seven-year NFL career with the New Orleans Saints.
He served as the baseball team captain his senior year. He also earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors in football four times. His mother, Gail Gleason, works in the WSU athletic department as a learning specialist.
Gleason was born in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep where he is already a member of the Hall of Fame. Saturday he will join the current 177 members of WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He’s an incredible guy, incredible career,” Mike Leach said. “I mean he’s character-wise everything that people aspire to be.”
In 2011 Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. He subsequently formed Team Gleason, a foundation that seeks to raise public awareness about the disease and provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases technology and services.
The fatal disease, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” causes motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain to degenerate, eventually causing paralysis. One technological advance that helps ALS patients, such as Gleason, is a device that tracks eye movements to allow the patients to type and communicate.
Jared Files will miss the Apple Cup as he helps care for his father, Jeff Files, another former WSU football player that has been stricken with ALS. But the student organization that he’s president of, WSU Team Gleason, will be on hand.
Like the New Orleans-based Team Gleason, the WSU group also seeks to spread awareness and help get technology in the hands of patients that it can help. Electrical engineering professor Dave Bakken has been advising students who are working to develop eye-tracking software that they hope to eventually release as a free, open-source alternative to the current expensive options.
“Our club is kind of an embodiment for integrating the technology that Dave Bakken’s group creates,” Jared Files said. “The WSU Team Gleason club on campus helps students to get involved and spread awareness. The hope is that we’ll be getting established so we can learn to use the technology and actually go to ALS patients in the community and teach them how to use it.”
They are trying to help create similar groups on other campuses and will be in the Hollingberry Fieldhouse before the game to introduce the club to fans and to demonstrate some of the technologies they have developed.
“There are still a lot of people that don’t necessarily know what ALS is, what it does,” Files said. “It’s good that they know about it and the hope is that we can stand there and answer questions and if they want to get further involved they can do that. But things like the Ice Bucket Challenge and Steve Gleason have helped get the ball rolling.”