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?