Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Special Spectators - The Impact

Fifth entry in a series on the Special Spectators game day event

Over the past week, we've shared the excitement and fun that goes into a Special Spectators game day event for seriously-ill children. If you've followed our blog, you know the day consists of tailgate parties complete with visits by mascots, marching bands, cheerleaders and athletes. We also include locker room tours to meet players and coaches, visits to the press box and other areas of the stadium that are off limits to fans. And of course, watching the game where, during a timeout, the kids will walk on the field to receive a standing ovation from the fans.

Since 2002, we've hosted about 165 of these events for approximately 5,500 patients, parents and siblings and the impact on these attendees is extremely powerful. But you don't have to take our word for it. Read these quotes from the kids and parents who have experienced being a Special Spectator.

"It was great to be able to tell your little boy something like this after what he’s been through. Something like this isn’t anything I could’ve pulled off on my own. To have someone step in and provide us with an opportunity like this is pretty special." D.R. - Father

"I got the surgery this week and that is the major thing because I’m in pain all the time. You can’t really go anywhere when your leg is just there and you’re in a wheelchair. You don’t want to go out because people do stare at you. But then it’s like, Oh, I’m going to this game. I’m going to have some fun. I’m gong to be with the people I want to be with. I’m going to enjoy something that I already like to do." L.T. - Patient

"My son has suffered so and I have cried a million tears, but the joy that you gave these children with Special Spectators will take away some to those sad times. We lay at night talking about the roar the crowd made for those four little heroes who stood on that OU field. Brian’s eyes light up when he tells others about the limo ride and all the special things that happened that night. To those who made it happen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the joy you brought to these kids who so deserve it." E.B. - Mother

"I wanted you to know what an incredible time he (and his dad) had! He called me every 30 minutes and started our conversation with, “Mom, you aren’t going to believe this!” He had such a great time. Thank you for giving him the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only did Tanner love meeting the coach and the players, he loved the cheerleaders, the sounds, the colors, the whole thing.

Again thank you. What you are doing for these kids will not only give them lasting memories, but boost their self esteem. Tanner loved showing his classmates his memorabilia and pictures. And what an opportunity to be seen on TV."
P.J. - Mother

"This was really great. Saturday's game was the first time we've been out as a family, other than holidays and birthdays, in the last three years" L.R. - Mother

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Making of a Special Spectators Game Day Event: The Game Experience

Fourth in a series on the Special Spectators game day events

This is what every kid and family member waits for...THE GAME!

The game experience is the most exciting part of the day for the children. From kickoff to the final whistle, the atmosphere is filled with excitement.

On-Field Introduction:

At many of our events, the Special Spectators are invited onto the field for an introduction to the crowd. The on-field introduction is the most powerful and memorable of all the activities. At some universities, as many as 107,000 fans have given these children a standing ovation for the courage they show from day-to-day.

Here you see several different photographs taken of the halftime or in-game introduction. Some of the more memorable on-field moments have occurred at the University of Tennessee, where 107,000 fans gave the Special Spectators a standing ovation. Others include the University of Colorado and the University of Oklahoma among others.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Making of a Special Spectators Game Day Event: The Pre-Game

Third in a series on Special Spectators events

Once the tailgate is finished, the children start the real fun! At many events, the Special Spectators are given access to a game day experience that the average fan can only imagine. This includes tours of the locker room before the game, pre-game activities around the stadium, visits to the field, and more! To the right you see a picture of the University of Georgia mascot, Hairy. The three children at the UGA game in 2006 had the opportunity to get down on the field before the game and take pictures with the mascot!

At Georgia Tech, children had the opportunity to not only participate in the Yellow Jacket Walk, a walk that the football team makes on its way from the buses to the locker room, but kids also had the opportunity to take photographs with the cheerleaders and with Buzz the Yellow Jacket.

Following the photo shoot, the kids were introduced to the crowd and proceeded to their seats which were donated by Georgia Tech. The seats were located in one of the University's premium skyboxes and the kids had a wonderful time!

Also included in pre-game activities are locker room visits. The University of Oklahoma puts on a wonderful event and the children many times gain access to the locker room before the game. In addition, Coach Bob Stoops requests private time with the children in his office. On the right you see a picture of Special Spectators sitting with Coach Stoops in his office. What a tremendous opportunity for the kids-most fans would do anything to have that chance to meet Coach Stoops!

Finally, at many Special Spectators events, the children are able to get up-close to the field right up to the kickoff and after. At left you see two young children enjoying their time inside the hedges at the University of Georgia, just moments before kickoff.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Making of a Special Spectators Game Day Event: The Tailgate Party

Second in a series

This blog entry is intended to give the reader a better idea and understanding of what we mean when we say that we are putting on a "Special Spectators Game Day Event".

Special Spectators Game Day Events are some of the most memorable and exciting days in the lives of the seriously ill children that we serve. Here we describe what a gameday event looks like from start to finish.

Tailgate Party:

The tailgate party usually starts about 2 and 1/2 hours before kickoff. In many cases, our food is donated by one of our corprate partners or by volunteers. The children NEVER have to pay for any of the food or tailgate experiences that they have. Tailgates are free to ALL children and their family members. And the food is just the beginning!

At many of the tailgating events student-athletes from other sports come to participate in the festivities! To the left is a photograph of the tent that is put together at the University of Illinois. The U of I puts on a great event for a large group of children every fall. We've had Illini wrestlers, basketball players, cheerleaders, and even the marching band particpate in the tailgate events!

Above and to the right you see a picture of David Thompson of the Northwestern Wildcats signing autographs for the children at the tailgating party. And to the left is a photograph of the University of Illinois Marching Illini, who came to the Special Spectators tent specifically to play songs for the children. It was an amazing experience for everyone involved, including the children, families, volunteers, and the Marching Illini!

The University of Colorado football team helped make the event in Boulder an amazing one! The players came to the tailgate party to visit the children and give them all "Crocs" shoes. They sang the Colorado fight songs for the children and took group photos with everyone. To the right is a photograph of the Colorado football team with the Special Spectators at the event that day!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Special Spectators - The Inspiration

The first in a series of entries on Special Spectators

In the mid-1990's, I spent three hours each Thursday night volunteering at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. This experience had a profound impact on my life. I met incredibly courageous and inspiring patients and parents who, after an exhausting day at work, would muster the energy and enthusiasm to spend several hours playing, reading and caring for their sick child. I also met unstoppable and devoted doctors, nurses, child life specialists and fellow volunteers, many of whom I'm proud to say are still my friends today. All of these people are still etched in my memory.

As a sports fan, this experience also impacted me in a different way. I was surprised to learn that many of the patients I met were big sports fans too. Early in my volunteering, I was silly to think that these youngsters couldn't possibly enjoy sports since their illnesses limited or prevented them from participating in athletics. I couldn't have been more mistaken. For many, their passion for sports exceeded that of many healthy children I knew.

I was in for another surprise. Very few of these patients had ever attended a game. Their exposure to sports was limited to video games and what they watched on TV.

I thought to myself, it would be really cool to not just take these kids to a game, but make them a part of a game. Provide the children with the feeling of being a member of a team with tens of thousands of fans cheering for them and a day filled with special surprises and experiences in and around the stadium that are not available to the average fan.

And what could be better than introducing these youngsters to the color, pagentry, sights and sounds of college football?