Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club launched; Rare Disease Champion honored at Maxwell Awards Gala

RDC MAXWELLUplifting Athletes had the pleasure of participating in the 78th Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala this past weekend at The Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, NJ.

This was the third consecutive year we recognized the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion as part of the Maxwell Awards Gala.

In addition to honoring Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates and his friend McKenzie Ray as the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, Uplifting Athletes also officially launched its Letterman’s Club sponsored by Select Medical Saturday with a three-hour meeting and work session.


The Letterman’s Club has always been part of the vision Uplifting Athletes founder and executive director Scott Shirley had for the organization.

And thanks to the support of Select Medical, the Letterman’s Club is now an official extension of the mission and vision for Uplifting Athletes.

These like-minded and selfless servants who helped lead or start up a Chapter on their respective campus, are committed to continuing to support the rare disease community.

Former college football players from Maryland, Nebraska, Penn State, Princeton and St. Francis joined the Uplifting Athletes team in Atlantic City for the two-day awards gala.

The highlight Thursday night was the Maxwell VIP Reception sponsored by the Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club. The attendees enjoyed getting a picture taken in front of the huge step-and-repeat banner prior to dinner.

After Maxwell President and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski welcomed the VIP guests, Shirley and Ray Pennacchia from Select Medical each had a chance to address the audience.

Friday morning the lettermen, Uplifting Athletes staff and Select Medical representatives Amy Ridall and Pennacchia gathered in the Bongo Conference Room at Tropicana for the first Letterman’s Club meeting.

Following introductions, vision casting and lunch, the core members in the room, along with a few lettermen online as part of a Google Hangout, went to work on approving a constitution, planning a 2015 event and electing the first officers.

Obi Egekeze from Maryland was approved as the first president. Chris Borland of Wisconsin and the San Francisco 49ers was voted in as the vice president. And the St. Francis duo of Jake Smith and Jeff Wasilewski were approved as the secretary and treasurer, respectively.

The first Uplifting Athletes Letterman’s Club meeting was adjourned at 2 p.m. sharp in order to allow everybody enough time to get ready for the Maxwell Awards Gala that evening.


Being able to honor our Rare Disease Champion as part of the Maxwell Awards Gala, where football is a big priority, has allowed Uplifting Athletes to shine a spotlight on the rare disease community.

This year the story was so personal. The relationship between Coates and Kenzie Ray is way more than just a football player and a little girl fighting for her life with a rare form of leukemia.

Coates and Ray are like a brother and sister and their kinship is only fully revealed when you get to witness them interact first-hand.

So Uplifting Athletes was proud to host Coates, his girlfriend Kailey Rogers and Kenzie’s mom and dad, Keisha and Tommy Ray, at the 2015 Maxwell Awards.

They group flew in from Alabama together and was transported from the Philadelphia airport to Maxwell via a private limo provided by the Maxwell Football Club.

It was the start of a memorable weekend that included the VIP Reception Thursday night and culminated in the presentation of the Rare Disease Champion trophy to Coates with his friend Kenzie right by his side.

Dr. David Fagjenbaum, a rare disease survivor who works at the University of Pennsylvania doing rare disease research, gave the nearly 1,000 Maxwell dinner guests a first-hand account of his fight and introduced Uplifting Athletes.

Following a nearly 5-minute video that gave the audience further insight into the story of Sammie and Kenzie, the duo received a nearly 2-minute standing ovation.

Tommy Ray made it very clear to Uplifting Athletes that his daughter would not have had the will to continue fighting if it wasn’t for her relationship with Sammie.

We are proud to share that Kenzie is doing much better and the Ray family used the experience at Maxwell to reflect on how far they had come in 12 months.

It was a busy two days with plenty of moving parts, but to launch the Letterman’s Club and honor such a deserving Rare Disease Champion the 2015 Maxwell Awards Gala will always be a memorable milestone weekend.

Together … We Are … Stronger!

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