by Michael Mulhern || AHL On The Beat Archive
Each September, San Antonio Rampage players and coaches convene to prepare for an arduous 80-game season featuring wins and losses, injuries, player movement and frequent travel.
However, the battles the Rampage face on the ice and in the training room pale in comparison to the heroic bouts with cancer waged by children at San Antonio’s Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital each and every day.
In acknowledgement of the unrelenting courage displayed by the young Rampage fans at Christus Santa Rosa, this past fall the Rampage organization instituted a program titled Face-Off Against Kids Cancer, which provides opportunities for pediatric cancer patients and their families to interact with Rampage players in both fun and unique settings each month during the Rampage season.
The Face-Off Against Kids Cancer program pairs Rampage hockey players with children from the Centers for Oncology and Blood Disorders at Christus Santa Rosa, in either early stages of treatment for pediatric cancer or in remission, through a series of social events over a five-month period with the hope of generating lasting relationships and increasing awareness about childhood cancer in the community.
For the Rampage players and coaches, the opportunity to bring smiles to the faces of the FOAKC children each month is viewed as both an honor and a privilege.
“As professional athletes and coaches, we have a responsibility to give back to the community and taking the time to provide joy to the children is extremely important to our team,” said Rampage head coach Ray Edwards.
To commence the program, the entire Rampage team hosted a pizza party for the FOAKC children at Christus Santa Rosa in early November. The special evening allowed each child and his or her family to spend quality one-on-one time with his or her designated Rampage player over pizza and board games. Sounds of laughter, enthusiastic dialogues and most importantly smiles were abundant as the event was enjoyed by all in attendance. On that night, lasting friendships were forged that would be cultivated throughout the course of the 2009-10 Rampage season.
During the month of December, the Rampage invited their young friends to the AT&T Center to experience what they do on a weekly basis. Taking in a Rampage game with their friends and family, the FOAKC children were able to cheer their buddies and enjoy the sights and sounds the AT&T Center on a game night. Upon the conclusion of the game, all FOAKC program members and their families proceeded to the HEB Fan Zone for an ice cream social and arcade games with their Rampage players.
In January, the FOAKC program spent a day of fun and wonder at Sea World. Side-by-side with their designated Rampage players, the FOAKC children fed dolphins and seals, stood next to giant Clydesdale horses, rode amusement park rides, ate fried dough and cotton candy, received piggy back rides from Rampage players and culminated the afternoon by experiencing Shamu’s “Christmas Miracles.”
Luring their Rampage friends into the “splash zone” while their parents and families sat in more elevated areas of the stands, the FOAKC children and Rampage players united in a collective wonderment and awe of Shamu and his orca friends and squealed with laugher with each ensuing splash. As the afternoon drew to a conclusion, a few FOAKC members and Rampage players headed off for a few more rides and laughs as the bonds being developed became increasingly evident.
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For much of the month of February, the presence of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo at the AT&T Center saw the Rampage and NBA’s San Antonio Spurs embark on their renowned “Rodeo road trip.” However, the team was able to return to the Alamo City briefly to enjoy a night at the rodeo with their young FOAKC friends. After munching on a buffet of beef brisket, chicken fingers and an assortment of other foods, the FOAKC children and Rampage players took in the sights and sounds of the rodeo, immediately followed by a Darius Rucker concert.
Within the first few months of the program, the families of the FOAKC children began to acknowledge noticeable differences in their special loved ones. According to the brother of 4-year-old FOAKC member Cessley Robles, “Cessley can’t stop smiling and showing signs of joy at the events.”
In addition to the special attention bestowed upon her son, Connor, by his buddy and Rampage goaltender Josh Tordjman, Brandy Lint-Ralston was equally appreciative of the program’s dedication to the children’s families.
“When a child has cancer, it affects the entire family,” she said. “The Rampage have been wonderful about paying attention to our daughter Mackenzie as well and really treating her like she’s very important as well. I think this it’s very special that the Rampage would take the time to do that.”
The FOAKC program has touched not only the hearts of the families and children involved, but the Rampage players as well.
According to Rampage left wing Ryan Hollweg, “What the kids go through on a daily basis is far more difficult than anything we, as professional hockey players, experience on the ice and we look forward to seeing them and making them feel happy.”
For Rampage center Kyle Turris, seeing the smiles on the faces of all the children, especially his four-year-old friend Cessley, says it all.
“We play professional sports and experience our share of bumps and bruises, but Cessley and the other kids have been through so much more and we as players look up to them for their courage,” Turris said.
While the 2009-10 American Hockey League season is rapidly coming to a close, Rampage broadcaster and program head Dan Weiss believes that the most critical elements of the program are the lasting bonds that he hopes will be perpetuated in the future.
“The FOAKC program is both unique and special in that relationships between the children and players do indeed come to fruition and we sincerely hope to keep the momentum going in the years to come,” Weiss said.
The program will culminate with a special FOAKC evening on March 27 when the Rampage host the Lake Erie Monsters. The night will feature special introductions of the participating children on the ice, during which each child will be presented with a special surprise keepsake from his or her player. In addition, the Rampage will wear special FOAKC jerseys, which will be auctioned following the game, with all proceeds donated to the Christus Santa Rosa Foundation.
In the end, Turris echoed the sentiments of his teammates, coaches, the Phoenix Coyotes and Spurs Sports and Entertainment with regard to the courageous FOAKC children, when he said, “They’re our heroes and we love to see them smile.”