Dec. 20, 2011
SAN DIEGO -
There’s football, and then there’s real life.
Monday at the Make-A-Wish Foundation event, part of San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Week here, several Louisiana Tech football players were exposed to the stark difference.
Tech, here to meet TCU in Wednesday night’s Poinsettia Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium, has enjoyed the coddling and graciousness of its bowl hosts since arriving Saturday. Monday was time to give a little something back.
Bulldog starters Stephen Warner, Ryan Allen, Quinton Patton, Jay Dudley, Adrien Cole, Matt Broha, Colby Cameron and head coach Sonny Dykes left the team’s outing at SeaWorld Monday afternoon to meet “Make a Wish Kids” from the San Diego area. The 31-year-old national foundation grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.
The mixer included six teens -- the Make a Wish Kids -- and several TCU players, along with Horned Frogs head coach and Dykes’s friend Gary Patterson.
A half-dozen children who’ve had their requested wishes granted by the local Make a Wish organization were given gifts by players and spent time with them - taking pictures, getting autographs, trading stories - in the two-hour event at a local hotel conference room. The event did a bit more than just open the eyes of some Bulldogs.
“This is a life-changing thing, a humbling event,” said Cole, the Bulldogs’ All-Western Athletic Conference linebacker - and father of 15-month-old son Kaden. “These people are nice enough to make wishes come true for these kids. I hope I run into people this nice if I’m ever in the same situation.”
“These kids are inspirational to me,” Cole said. “I train. I sweat. I bleed. But this is something I haven’t experienced. They wake up knowing this might be their last day, but they keep on pushing anyway.”
Giving away the gifts he had by chance was an easy call for Cole once he met children like Stephanie, diagnosed with a form of cancer June 1 and now in a wheelchair, and Dax, who has leukemia, now in remission.
Both are 13. Stephanie was granted a big shopping spree this football season; Dax went to Disneyworld with his best friend and family.
“Material things come and go,” Cole said. “But the smiles those kids had on their faces when I gave them those little things, those will stay with me forever.”
Allen, who was in Disneyworld two weeks ago to receive the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best collegiate punter, traded stories with Dax about Universal Studios, the Spiderman ride and the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster. Dax also gave Dykes pointers about the best places to go at Disney; Dykes has planned a Disneyworld trip in February with wife Kate, their 3-year-old daughter Ally and baby daughter Charlie, born in April. Dykes asked Dax to coach him up, and Dax was happy to do it.
“This really opens your eyes and makes you realize how lucky you are,” said Broha, Tech’s All-WAC defensive end. “It’s pretty cool to be able to give back just this little bit and see how appreciative they are. These kids are heroes.”
Warner, Tech’s All-WAC 21-year-old junior center out of Ruston High, was already familiar with Make a Wish. His brother Nathan, 19 and a Tech finance major, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was three. Surgery in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis was successful, but Nathan couldn’t play contact sports like his brother because of the type of tumor he had and its location. Doctors told Warner’s father that the chances of Nathan’s survival at that time, based on similar cases, weren’t good at all.
“But God blessed us and led us through the surgery,” said Warner, who was too young to appreciate exactly what was happening at the time but gained a full understanding as both he and his little brother grew up since Nathan returned to Memphis annually for checkups. What he remembers clearly is Make a Wish.
“They got us a Jungle Gym-like thing that we played on outside all the time when we were little,” said Warner, now 6-0, 295. “It had a rope ladder and tunnels and a slide - We got it a year or two after he was sick; that’s what he wanted. We finally gave it to a family in our church when we outgrew it. So yeah, my family is very high on the Make a Wish people. They made a difference for us.”
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