This past Saturday, the Weber State University football team hosted a football camp for the Utah HopeKids Foundation at Stewart Stadium. HopeKids is a national organization that provides ongoing events and activities and a unique support community for families who have children with cancer or other life-threatening medical conditions.
“We are a family outreach organization that brings those people together so they can enjoy the company of others that understand really what they are going through,” said C.R. Oldham, the executive director of Utah HopeKids. “We do 10-15, sometimes 20 events per month, just like we are doing today, so these kids always have something to look forward to. Even though they are having chemotherapy or they are having surgery, they can look at the calendar and say, ‘Oh, I have chemo, but next week I am going to play football with Weber State.’ We believe that if we can just get them to enough events, they will look up one day and say, ‘Oh, look, I’m done with treatment.’”
Oldham said he is constantly looking for opportunities for special events for the children, and he happened to meet WSU head football coach Jody Sears at the church they both attend.
“C.R. approached me and said, ‘Hey, would your staff and your team be interested in putting on a football clinic for our HopeKids?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, are you kidding me? Yes, a thousand times over,'” Sears said. “It goes with everything that we are trying to teach and promote here as a coach, as a mentor and a leader, to give our players an opportunity to serve and to lead and give back to an awesome organization like HopeKids. There is no better opportunity than to bring kids out here that are fighting their health issues and give them some attention, energy and life and love, and play some ball.”
More than 150 HopeKids children and family members attended the event. The families were split into groups, each group led by a few Wildcat football players. The players ran the children through a variety of football drills, including passing, agility, tackling and punting drills.
“It’s awesome working with the kids that maybe aren’t as privileged as others, with cancer and stuff,” said senior punter Tony Epperson. “To get the opportunity to hang out with us, it’s awesome for them and us — giving back to the community and stuff like that. I like that we are doing that. I look forward to these kind of days.”
One of the participants, 3-year-old Landon Bowers, received a heart transplant when he was three months old. He cannot leave the house much, making it difficult on his siblings when they want to go out.
“To have the ability to do something like this, to focus on what we get to do instead of what we don’t get to do because of Landon, is great,” said Tammy Bowers, Landon’s mother. “It’s activities like this that help us see the good that comes out of having a kid with special needs. These kids go through a lot. (It’s good) to be able to do stuff like this, because unfortunately a lot of them don’t have the life expectancy. But to enjoy every moment of what they do have is worth it.”
WSU President Charles Wight was in attendance at the event and said he was happy to have this event sponsored by WSU and the football program.
“Events like this help Weber State draw closer to the community,” Wight said. “That’s really important. It’s part of our mission. It’s having good interactions and being a leader in the community. That means making connections of all sorts, at all levels. So doing an event like this, for the benefit of the kids, it’s really important.”
Sears said he is determined to make this an annual event and was proud of how the event turned out.
“Absolutely, we want to make this an annual event,” Sears said. “This is our first one, so we just want to do everything right, and we know there will be a few things to iron out. But absolutely. It’s a no-brainer.”
Oldham also said he was pleased with how the event turned out.
“Pairing these families with football players as hosts, it was just a fantastic idea,” Oldham said. “These kids are going to remember this forever.”