Andrew Valdez was a super fan of the University of Arizona. And he served as the inspiration for the football team choosing cystic fibrosis as the rare disease to champion and starting an Uplifting Athletes Chapter in 2013.
The relationship between Andrew and Wildcats football team was personal. When you talked to the Arizona Chapter leaders it was clear Andrew served as a strong source of inspiration.
Andrew passed away last week at the age of 19. Six members of the Arizona Chapter served as pallbearers at his funeral last weekend and chapter leader Josh Kern delivered a eulogy.
ESPN Staff Writer Ted Miller covers the Pac-12 and posted this blog about what some of the schools in the conference do off-the-field to serve and help others. It includes details of the Arizona Chapter.
Uplifting Athletes is re-posting his blog in its entirety with permission.
You need to go no further than the front of ESPN.com’s college football page to learn about many of the bad things athletes do. Would it surprise you to know, however, that a lot of college football players do good things?
Just about every program has a cause, typically a range of causes. Players visit hospitals, often giving special time to and developing relationships with sick children. Former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was such a regular presence at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley he was practically a part-time employee. Arizona State has a special relationship with a young man, Nash Robinson, who suffers from severe spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
Sometimes the service work and outreach get publicity, such as USC’s relationship with blind fan Jake Olson, which began under Pete Carroll and now has taken an interesting turn.
Most of the time, these are uplifting experiences for athletes who get to step away from the obsessive focus on team and self that big-time football demands. Yet, because it’s real, sometimes reaching out invites the possibility of real pain. Consider this story about Arizona players who became close with Andrew Daniel Valdez, who died June 20 after suffering from cystic fibrosis.
He was just 19 years old.
Arizona’s players got to know Valdez after forming the Pac-12’s first Uplifting Athletes Chapter to support cystic fibrosis. This wasn’t just a handshake after the game relationship, or a one-off visit to practice. Wildcats players became so close to Valdez that six served as pallbearers. Tight end Josh Kern delivered one of two eulogies.
After more than an hour celebrating and reflecting on Andrew’s life, Kern delivered an emotional speech. There were the light parts – when Kern talked about Andrew’s three complaints in life; hospital food, Arizona State and LeBron James – and sad parts when the tight end’s voice cracked, talking about his “brother and second family.”
Kern finished by telling everyone: “We will always remember Andrew by his strength and spirit.”
That’s tough stuff for young men to deal with – for anyone, really. But that’s a life lesson, just like pushing through pain on the practice field is.
Even before Kessler was a star he made friends with Nathan Garcia, a 12-year-old boy who had terminal stage 4 brain cancer. This past fall, he bonded with 9-year-old Joey Rodriguez, who has a brain tumor.
Former UCLA QB Brett Hundley was named to the 2014 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, as was Cal running back Jeffrey Coprich. Utah QB Travis Wilson donated his rock star locks to help kids with cancer. Colorado has been involved in the “Be the Match Marrow Donor Registry Drive,” which helps doctors locate and identify potential donors for patients who are in need of a marrow transplant.
An Arizona fan wrote a letter to the Arizona Republic praising Arizona State coach Todd Graham for spending time with a young man dying in a hospice.
Fact is every team – obviously not just in the Pac-12 – has some level of community service as a consistent part of its program. Sometimes these lean toward photo ops, though any outreach is better than none. More often than you’d think, however, players get and stay involved.
You won’t see many videos of community service work going viral or collecting 10 million clicks on BuzzFeed or YouTube. But it’s actually a bigger part of college football than player crime and misdeeds.