Morgantown – This is for the kids.
We’re talking about the Gold-Blue Spring Football game this Saturday in West Virginia at Milan Puskar Field that kicks off at noon.
On the surface, it’s a game for players, the end of spring training, one last chance to compete…but they’re not the real beneficiaries of this game.
They have all summer and fall to make their case for starting work and play time, assessment and development time.
No, this is for kids.
It’s a day that benefits the beautiful new children’s hospital right there in the blue parking lot, where a thousand stories are being written each day, stories with far more meaning than anything a sportswriter like me could write in a lifetime.
It is, to a lesser extent, for otherwise healthy children in a north-central community of West Virginia. For the people of the country and for the people of neighboring countries.
Any place that heals the sick, relieves the pain, cares for the afflicted… Those who are too young to understand what has befallen them and too young to bear suffering is a place that deserves a special day, a special weekend.
Athletes and children have this special bond, a bond that resonates throughout history.
He runs off Babe Ruth promising to hit a home run to young Johnny Sylvester, an 11-year-old who suffered a serious head injury and was hospitalized. Ruth, who was about to enter the 1926 World Series with his New York Yankees playing the St. Louis Cardinals, received a request from the family to inform him of the situation.
Ruth sent Johnny Sylvester a package that included a few baseballs, one signed by the Yankees and one by the Cardinals, and a note in which Ruth wrote: “I’ll throw you a homer on Wednesday,” which was Game 4 of the series.
You know the story. He does so and Sylvester recovers.
There are so many of those stories, the big ones that made movies and others that no one knew about except the day one kid escaped the cage of sickness or injury in which he was imprisoned, even if only for a few moments.
The gift that is always hope and memory to give.
What is not written about is what it does for the athletes themselves. You don’t hear of any of them backing out of a commitment that involves sick children and they rarely let any child down.
For many, this is better than the roar of a crowd of bluffers, the response they get from children they have visited or called.
Want to see what you look like. Watch at the end of a WVU game as the players head to the locker room, how high five players mean, and how a wrist band is thrown their way. signature? It’s like a check signed when you’re 8 or 10 years old, healthy or not.
It all began here in Morgantown when Don Nehlen was hired as West Virginia’s head coach, more than four decades ago.
He made a trip to the hospital to visit the children and establish a relationship. While there he noticed the lack of toys in the hospital playroom. He went to athletic director Fred Schhaus and pushed for game donations instead of charging admission to the spring game.
And so it began.
The relationship has generated more than $790,000 over the years for WVU Pediatrics.
Nahlin started visits with his players to the children’s hospital.
Today, as Mantrip enters the field for every home game, the players stop and wave to the kids and take the waves back, which makes them all winners no matter how the game turns out.
While the weather forecast is for rain, the day is set to kick off with a free concert at 11 a.m. from West Virginia-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Philip Bowen.
And after the game, let the kid in and stop by Kegler’s between 4 and 6 for an autograph or photo with former WVU quarterback and Hall of Famer Darryl Talley, who retired last year.