Saint Leo University Helps Make Local Boy’s Dream Come True

February 18, 2014

February 12 was no ordinary night of Sunshine State Conference basketball action on the campus of Saint Leo University. Despite the inclement weather outside the walls of the Marion Bowman Activities Center, the delightful strains of steel drums could be heard ringing from within the Bowman Center, and an entire gymnasium was filled with warmth and joy as they watched a little boy learn that wishes do come true.

With inflatable palm trees, colorful leis, beach balls and sunglasses in abundance, the Saint Leo community cheered-on ten-year-old Justin from Oldsmar, Fla., as he learned his Make-A-Wish® dream of going to the Turks and Caicos Islands was being granted.

Thanks to Division II’s partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation®, Justin’s wish was able to come true due to the hard work, dedication and pride that the Saint Leo student-athletes and Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) continuously put into their fundraising efforts for the organization.

“We are honored to be part of the NCAA Division II team supporting the Make-A-Wish® initiative,” said Fran Reidy, director of athletics at Saint Leo. “We are proud of the efforts of our student-athletes who actively participate in such a worthwhile program, helping Make-A-Wish ® grant more wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.”

The NCAA Division II’s alliance with Make-A-Wish® was formed in 2003 to connect student-athletes directly to a charitable cause. Since then, student-athletes at NCAA DII institutions nationwide have put their rivalries aside and channeled their competitive spirits toward a common goal – raising money for Make-A-Wish®.

For 2013, NCAA Division II chose five institutions that achieved exemplary fundraising results and rewarded them with the opportunity to host an on-campus wish party, allowing each institution to witness first-hand the life-changing impact of a wish. Saint Leo was fortunate enough to be the first of five schools selected to have that experience, and the event created memories that will last a lifetime for not only Justin and his family, but the Saint Leo community as well.

“We are thrilled to be able to celebrate Justin’s wish in such a big and exciting way with the help of Saint Leo’s students and athletes,” said Lisa Andrews, regional director of Make-A-Wish® Central and Northern Florida. “This meaningful day will give Justin and his family hope and strength as they battle cancer together.”

The NCAA Division II alliance has generated nearly $3 million in total for Make-A-Wish®; $517,000 in FY13 alone. Fundraising at each institution is coordinated by the school’s SAAC, comprised of student-athletes from each sport. Saint Leo University’s SAAC raised $9,000 for FY13 (2012-13 academic year), and has contributed more than $25,000 since partnering with the Make-A-Wish® organization.

The Saint Leo Department of Athletics has been involved with the DII fundraising efforts since the inception of the campaign in 2003. The Lions partnered with other schools in the Sunshine State Conference to reach a minimum of $5,000 to grand a child’s wish. However, in the 2010-11 academic year, Saint Leo set a new benchmark as they single-handedly raised $5,130, raising the bar for years to come. In 2011-12, the Lions took it even further and raised $10,000, helping two wishes become a reality. With Wednesday night’s big reveal on campus, the bar has been raised yet again.

Despite the constantly increasing levels of expectations placed upon them, Saint Leo student-athletes continue to reach for the stars to help make wishes come true. With $5,000 already amassed after one semester, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is half way to their desired goal of $10,000 for the 2013-14 academic year. After last Wednesday’s wish reveal, the Lions are more determined than ever to help make future dreams come true for local Wish Kids.

“We try to encourage our student-athletes to see the bigger picture and teach them that giving back is an important part of everyday life,” said Lesley Graham, head women’s lacrosse coach and SAAC Advisor. “They are very fortunate in that they get to live a dream of their own by playing a sport in college. The fact that our student-athletes got to see, in person, that their hard work raising money for Make-A-Wish® has directly helped a Wish Kid fulfill a dream of their own was definitely something special. It truly gave them some perspective, and they will remember that feeling for years to come.”