Make a Difference Today for Someone Fighting for Tomorrow

Make a Difference Today for Someone Fighting for Tomorrow

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Randy York N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

If anyone wondered if Team Jack is a national cause and a national movement, wonder no more. Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly, named this week one ofUSA Today’s Top 10 QBs of All Time, was the keynote speaker at last Saturday night’s third annual Team Jack Gala. The Lincoln Embassy Suites event helped raise $400,000 for Team Jack’s top priority – pediatric brain cancer research.

Credit a spirited, successful night from Kelly, who delivered his 33-minute speech in a Q&A format because he’s battling cancer himself. Damon Benning, a running back on Nebraska’s 1994 and ’95 national championship teams, was the emcee asking the questions and was as capitivated as anyone, hanging onto every note, quote and anecdote Kelly used to define his life.

Kelly was a riveting force for a critical cause on a magical night. He capped the fundraising haul by purchasing a cummerbund and tie from award-winning artist Jeff Hansen’s father and then donating $1,000 to the Team Jack fund himself. It was truly a moment that helped Andy Hoffman, father of Husker hero Jack Hoffman, realize the national impact Team Jack is making.

“What’s so exciting is that donations have grown from $15 for a t-shirt to $40,000 from single donors on a single night,” Hoffman told me. “In a night where those kind of donations are received, it’s impossible to put into words the impact that something like this can have on this disease. It renders a person speechless.”

The generosity on display “was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been to cancer fundraisers in Philadelphia, Florida, Boston and Los Angeles, but Saturday’s support was unrivaled. Lincoln should be proud. Husker fans should be proud. Brain cancer families should be proud. Saturday night, Lincoln, Nebraska, made a huge impact on the fight against the leading childhood cancer cause of death.”

A Gala’s Poignant Night Does Not Even Include Jack’s Fabled Touchdown

If I were a betting man, I would go all in that Kelly (above right) was especially charismatic after watching the positivity of the children in the room and several videos that were so poignant that most of the 700 people packed into the banquet room probably never realized that Jack’sfamous 69-yard touchdown run in Nebraska’s 2013 Spring Game wasn’t even part of evening.

““We’re so proud that this is a Nebraska cause and a Nebraska movement,” Hoffman said. “While we’re committed to funding national clinical trials and laboratory research, we also recently committed $1.5 million to the University of Nebraska’s Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center to assist in the development of a pediatric brain tumor program.”

That commitment is in conjunction with the Nebraska State Legislature matching $1.5 million for a total of $3 million dedicated to children with brain tumors.

Team Jack and the state’s investment in a program will have a national impact because it will help provide another site for clinical trials, laboratory research and banking research specimens. More importantly, “it will bring cutting-edge treatment to kids who live here in Nebraska,” Hoffman said. “Our children with brain tumors will have access to the  best of care.”

Hoffman is convinced that Saturday night’s generosity highlighted the importance of the role that sports and especially football play in helping fight rare diseases like pediatric brain cancer.

Burkhead’s Champions Award from Uplifting Athletes Created a Ripple Effect

Rex Burkhead, of course, is the Husker who became the Uplifting Athletes’ 2012 Champions Award recipient. He created the ripple effect that paved the way for both to be invited to theWhite House. At the same time that Burkhead was launching his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jack was invited to Hollywood where he accepted an ESPY award.

“I’m so proud of our past Huskers and the current team for taking the time to say ‘Yes’,” saidKeith Zimmer, Nebraska’s senior associate athletic director for Life Skills and the N-Club. “What often starts as a simple act of kindness can blossom into something that binds people together for a greater cause and truly shows the inherent power of sport.”

Other Nebraska NFL players who attended Saturday night’s gala included Chris Kelsey,Jeremiah Sirles and Kenny Bell, plus College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Tommie Frazier. Current Huskers who attended the gala were Tommy Armstrong Jr.Jordan WesterkampNate Gerry, and brothers Trey Foster and Jerald Foster.

Kimberly Westerkamp, Jordan’s mother, became one of the night’s biggest stars with a $27,000 winning bid for art entitled “Winning Streak” and another piece of acrylic of her choice on heavily textured canvas from award-winning artist Jeff Hanson. The 22-year-old artist is visually impaired from an optic-nerve tumor related to neurofibromatosis. Hanson announced at Saturday’s gala that his artwork has now reached $2 million to benefit various causes.

Banker: Whenever You See These Kids, You Want to Give Them a Hug or a Kiss

Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker attended Team Jack’s Gala, knowing Husker football’s Uplifting Athletes chapter shares a relationship with Team Jack and raises money for pediatric brain cancer research. Banker was deeply touched watching a slideshow featuring children that had gone through their adolescent years and became survivors, but continue to fight. “When you see individuals who contract the disease at age 1½ and aren't with us anymore at age 8, that really struck home,” Banker said.

So did the outpouring of people who financially donated to the cause. “Listening to everybody talk and share what they’ve done to raise money and awareness was inspiring,” Banker said. “Jim Kelly was excellent. He’s a gregarious character who injects his own personal stories all the way from his upbringing with his own siblings to being married and having a family and a child they lost when he was 8-years-old. He had his own fight with cancer, plus his son’s fight with a different disease. The way he put his whole message together inspired everyone in the room. It was very impactful. When you give those kids a hug or a kiss on the cheek, it means everything in the world to them because they take absolutely nothing for granted.” 

Kelly and his wife had a son who was diagnosed with a brain-related disease when he was only four months old. For 18 months, he and his wife woke up every morning thinking “this is the day that the good Lord is going to take our son,” Kelly said.  “It was not easy. My mother once said, ‘it's time for ya'll to start treating him like he’s alive and living’. That was the day that we changed. We started to put him on a snowmobile. We put him on horseback, even though he had no motor skills. He had oxygen. He ate through a feeding tube, but we gave him that quality of life that he deserved."

Kelly Prayed Every Night for God's Blessing to Include Son at Pro FB HOF

As time went on, the love that the Kellys had with their son and the difference they made led to their own foundation and all the things they continue to do. In 2002, Kelly learned he was a Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate. “I'm in New Orleans, and I get picked to go into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “From that day on until August, I prayed every single night for God's blessing that my son would be there that day. My prayers were answered. My son was there on one of the most exciting days of my life.”

Parents realizing they have a special needs child is not easy on a marriage. “But I tell you what,” Kelly said. “I needed to do one thing in my life. I needed to humble myself to realize that I understood what my wife was going through. I wasn't the husband that I should have been. I wasn't the father I should have been. I needed to change my life, and I did in 2007 because I wanted to see my son and walk through my front door and have two daughters look at their daddy with respect and treat my wife like she’s supposed to be treated.”

During that process, Kelly had an epiphany. “I am a chosen father with a little boy named Hunter because I can make a difference,” he said. “I knew that if I didn't change my life that things were only going to get worse. I thank the good Lord each and every day for what I’ve been given because my journey is still not over.”

Read full article here