Wish granted; Smile cherished
When Alex smiled, the 1,500 people packed into Acker Gym could not help but join him.
“My cheeks are still hurting,” Claire Wayne said hours after the gym doors were closed and
the lights turned off.
Alex, a 5-year-old boy born with a serious heart condition, was in the gym at halftime of Saturday night’s Chico State men’s basketball game to have his wish granted, thanks to a partnership with NCAA Division II, the Chico State Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and Make-A-Wish of Northeastern California and Northern Nevada.
Alex stood at the free-throw line on the east side of the gymnasium with Athletics Program Coordinator and former SAAC co-President Haley Kroll, Michele Flynn of Make-A-Wish, and Willie the Wildcat.
After sharing a warm hug with Willie and receiving a bag of gifts from the student-athletes, Alex discovered the big surprise: He is going to LEGOLAND!
He smiled with great wonder at his gift. Everyone else in the gym smiled with great wonder at the gift of his beaming smile.
“I felt my heart get warm. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much at seeing him smile,” said Wayne, a SAAC representative from the Chico State softball team. “I could not stop smiling. It was such pure and innocent happiness.”
She was one of the SAAC representatives who put into words what everyone in the bleachers seemed to experience.
“It was a magical moment,” said Kelly McConnell, current SAAC co-President and a track & field athlete. “He is such an innocently happy child. That made the whole year.”
“It was awesome to see how we can reach out to the community and make a difference,” said fellow SAAC co-President Anna Baytosh, a member of the volleyball team. “It is rewarding to be able to give back and do something that’s bigger than ourselves.”
“I’ll never forget Alex’s smile,” SAAC men’s golf representative Kelley Sullivan said. “It is eye-opening to see how we can make a kid’s day with a little hard work. It was a powerful night.”
Alex underwent open heart surgery immediately after his birth and has had multiple surgeries since. He has received a new LEGO set after every one of his trips to the emergency room.
His most recent surgery was in July, 2016, and he has recovered well. He began school in the fall.
But he will be taking a few days off in the month of March. He will get to spend time with a master model builder when he visits LEGOLAND on March 30.
“He told me he was going to become a master builder,” Wayne said.
Alex will also visit Sea World and the San Diego Zoo during his trip.
Alex is the fourth local child the Wildcats have granted a wish for in the past eight years. In 2011, Chico State’s SAAC, working in partnership with Make-A-Wish and NCAA Division II, sent nine-year old Mason Fontana and his parents to Hollywood so that Mason could appear on his favorite TV show, “Yo-Gabba-Gabba.” In 2014, SAAC helped 15-year old Marcus Tice pursue his wish to go to college by donating $5,000 to start a 529 College Savings plan. In 2016, the Wildcats helped send four-year-old Davan to Walt Disney World.
“It’s really a testament to the Chico State community and the community of Chico,” McConnell said. “The money we raised comes from the people of Chico. This is a testament to what a close-knit family Chico is. Tonight, we were able to band together to give a local child a very special night. It was a monumental moment.”
About the NCAA Division II/Make-A-Wish partnership
NCAA Division II has been a sponsor of Make-A-Wish since 2003 raising more than $5.3 million since the alliance’s inception. The alliance consists of Division II student-athletes who conduct predetermined fundraisers and volunteer their time to benefit Make-A-Wish.
About the Chico State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
The Chico State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, better known as SAAC, is made up of at least two representatives from each of the department’s 13 sports. Members of SAAC participate in many community service events, act as a liaison between their team and the athletic department administration, and represent the department at various on- and off-campus activities.
This story originally appeared at chicowildcats.com.