I’ve been using weekends for trivia question, but this story is too good to pass and a story that needs to be told. I like stories about the good things people do as they are too often underpublicized. Of all the college football players, only a small fraction will attend an NFL camp, let alone make a team, but in this case – everyone is a big-time professional.
The article below appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday, Sept. 3. Unfortunately, the paper is quick to archive articles but to me, this is one of the good stories that should be kept alive.
Bill Koch, Cincinnati Enquirer wrote this wonderful article about a positive impact by a whole college football team.
Football Players Inspired by Mitch: Bearcats have a New Teammate
At first, Mitch Stone was hesitant when he was approached with the idea of being “adopted” by the University of Cincinnati football team.
Mitch, who completed the fifth grade last year at Maddux Elementary School with straight A’s, does not like a lot of attention, according to his mother, Dee. And even though he was an ardent UC fan, he wasn’t sure this was right for him.
“I had to talk him into it,” Dee said.
That was back in July when the Bearcats became the first Division I football team in the country to adopt a child as part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. Six weeks later, both Mitch and his family are grateful for the support they’ve received from UC.
Mitch was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February. He has undergone surgery to attempt to remove the tumor and has had 31 radiation treatments. Now he’s in the midst of high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell rescue over a four-month period. He just finished round three.
It’s a lot to ask an 11-year-old to endure, even one as upbeat and optimistic as Mitch, but he hasn’t had to endure it alone. Besides his parents, Dee and Anthony, he has a twin brother, Nick, two older sisters, Piper and Paisley, and plenty of friends lending their support.
He also has an entire football team in his corner.
As part of their “adoption” of Mitch, everyone in the UC program, from the coaches on down, wears a red, white and blue bracelet with the words “Mitch’s Mission” written on it. He receives text messages and e-mails on a regular basis from the players, who chipped in $5 apiece to buy him a prepaid phone with a monthly plan so the players can call him if he’s having a bad day.
“Our guys feel like they wanted to be a Big Brother,” said UC head coach Brian Kelly.
The effect on Mitch has been energizing.
“It’s done so much for his spirits, just knowing that the Bearcats are behind him,” Dee said. “It just lifts his sprits every time he hears from them. He got a text message from (wide receiver) Mardy (Gilyard) the other day and he was so excited. It’s been wonderful. The whole experience has been wonderful.”
The idea to “adopt” Mitch originated with Ernest Jones, UC’s director of player of services. Jones had heard about the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children diagnosed with pediatric brain tumors by matching the child with a college or high school sports team. He investigated to see if this was something the Bearcats could get involved in.
“I talked to the founder and said, ‘How can we be a part of it at the University of Cincinnati?” Jones said. “They said none of the Division I football teams were doing it. I said we’d like to do it. I went up to Children’s Hospital and I talked to some doctors and nurses and then we found Mitch.”
After Jones presented the idea to Kelly, he presented it to the players, who were overwhelmingly in favor of it.
“I was one of the first ones Coach Jones mentioned it to,” said linebacker Craig Carey. “I thought it was a great idea, just to give him a group of brothers that he can look up to, that we can help out, just lend a helping hand to him and his family. It’s a great thing that more people can be involved in.”
Both of Mitch’s parents are UC graduates and are such big fans of the football team that the entire family made the trip to the Orange Bowl at the end of last season.
Still, Dee and her family didn’t know exactly what to expect after they agreed to the “adoption.”
“We didn’t expect it to be such a big deal,” Dee said. “It’s turned out be so special. It’s meant something to everyone in our family.”
Gilyard is Mitch’s favorite player, Dee said, but he’s just one of many players who have reached out to Mitch and his family.
“Ricardo Mathews left me this wonderful prayer on my voice mail when Mitch was really sick,” Dee said. “It was just this heartfelt prayer. I still have it on my voice mail. I still listen to it.”
The players first met Mitch in July and let the Stone family know at the adoption “ceremony” that they were serious about this.
“That’s what was so neat about the whole experience,” Dee said. “As soon as the ceremony was over, these guys just surrounded us to offer their support, to say I really am here. This isn’t just for show. This is for real.”
A reaction to medicine prevented Mitch from attending any practices at Higher Ground, the Bearcats’ pre-season training site in West Harrison, Ind.
And with Mitch schedule to undergo his final round of chemotherapy on Labor Day weekend, he might not be able to attend a UC game until sometime in October.
Whenever he shows up for that first game, Mitch will provide the Bearcats with some special motivation.
“He’s given us so much strength he doesn’t even know about and we’re trying to give the same strength to him,” Carey said.
“You come out here for camp and you’re at football. People might be complaining about bangs and bruises, but he’s going through something we can’t even imagine. The strength that he’s given us, knowing that he can fight through that, it’s amazing.”
Note: Last winter I also posted this article about the good deeds of Bearcat WR Mardy Gilyard, who is also mentioned in this article.