An Evening with the Gamecocks

Steve Spurrier has been pleased this winter when 100% of his team has turned out for 6 a.m. workouts. Friday night his entire team turned out again, this time to exercise one small part - their hearts. The football players spent the night playing and interacting with children who have cancer or have survived it, and their families.



When you mention the Five Points area and Gamecock football players together, news reports in the past have not always been good. It was all good Friday night when the players came out to support a charitable organization based in Five Points called "Children's Chance." The players spent the better part of two hours at the event held at Anchor Lanes in Irmo, bowling with the kids and their families, eating pizza, signing autographs, getting their pictures taken with the kids, and bringing light into young lives that have experienced some dark days as they face the horrors of cancer.

Allison Aitchison of Columbia and her husband were there with their six year old daughter Morgan. Morgan was diagnosed with acute leukemia in October. "She's in the midst of her treatment," Aitchison said. "She's doing very well. This has been a great chance for our family to come out together. We don't get out much with all the treatments Morgan has had, so it's just a great opportunity to come out together as a family. We're huge Gamecock fans, so this is very special." Morgan was wearing a floppy hat and a Gamecock cheerleader's outfit as she sent ball after ball down the lane in search of those elusive pins, but the brightest part of her ensemble was the huge smile she wore for most of the night.



Stephen Garcia & Morgan Aitchison

Children's Chance helps families facing pediatric cancer with non-medical financial needs, while also offering psychological and emotional support. The event Friday was the 7th Annual "An Evening with the Gamecocks" event sponsored by USC and Children's Chance.

Samantha Higgins, the organization's Public Relations Director, said, "We had about 65 kids with cancer attend, and their families, totaling about 200 people, in addition to the entire football team. It means a lot to the children to get out of the hospital and just be kids, and not always be the ‘kids with cancer'."

Senior William Brown, better known to Gamecock fans as "Web," may have completed his eligibility to play for the Gamecocks this past season, but he was still part of the team there supporting the kids, and was visibly moved by what he saw. He shared with one of the Children's Chance board members that his sister had cancer when she was a teen, and he recognized the value of their work. The USC senior said he plans to volunteer with the organization after he graduates.

Brown is not the only Gamecock player who has had a family member who had to battle cancer. Offensive lineman Kyle Nunn's younger brother Brock was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at eight months, and was given zero percent chance of survival at the time, but today is healthy and thriving at age ten. To read about Brock and the special relationship he has with his big brother, click the link to an earlier story here: Overcoming Adversity Made Nunn Grow Strong

Brock and Kyle's Mom is Linda Schermerhorn, who shared how Children's Chance helped their family. "We had gone through the million dollar limit on my health insurance for Brock's treatment, and $500,000 on my husband's policy, and then we still owed almost $100,000." She said. "After almost three years of chemotherapy, we had gone through all of our savings, and it was Christmas time, and Kyle who was around nine or ten at the time, really wanted a Playstation for Christmas, and I couldn't afford it."

Through support from the community, individuals, grants, and businesses, Children's Chance funds programs which help families pay non-medical bills such as rent/mortgage, electric payments, and car repairs. "Schermerhorn said, "Someone at the hospital told us about Children's Chance, and we received $600.00, so I could pay our car payment and our light bill, and we were able to get Kyle a Playstation for Christmas." Today the same program through Children's Chance provides up to $1500 for each family in need.

The Schermerhorns have been involved on and off as volunteers in the years since with Children's Chance. They had taken a break for awhile, and she said last year after Kyle's recruiting was over, with Brock's encouragement she decided to get back involved, and today serves on their board. "We do a lot with Children's Chance, and they do a lot with families who have a child with cancer. We have counseling available, there are art therapy programs for kids in the hospital, teen support groups, and a lot of other programs as well." Today, Brock's picture is featured on posters and brochures promoting Children's Chance.



Kyle Nunn and his little brother Brock

Nunn talked about why the team was there: "We're just trying to show these kids a good time," he said. "They've been through a lot. They get to have a time out with us just enjoy themselves. Its fun watching the kids and the parents too, having fun, walking around and getting autographs."



Ian Carlson

One of the young people in attendance was Ian Carlson, a 14 year old Gamecock fan who was wearing a USC baseball hat. "I had cancer when I was nine, and was treated through when I was 12. I've been healthy for about two years." he said. Carlson was also there to support the children currently fighting the disease. "I can tell them what they'll be going through. And I know how they feel. I had it, and I tell them they'll be just fine, they can beat this thing."

Running back Mike Davis was all smiles as he watched the kids while being interviewed. He said, "These kids go through a lot and it's hard. It's a real honor to be here and be with them."



Mike Davis

Quarterback Stephen Garcia was also enthusiastic as he talked about the kids: "They are survivors - some have survived cancer, some have cancer right now. This is supposed to be what we do at the bowl game, but we didn't have a bowl game this year, so we're just doing this as part of the football team. It's been awesome."

Hamp Thomason was another young cancer survivor at the event, and as a football player himself, the appearance by his heroes from USC was especially meaningful to the 16 year old. "I spent about 10-11 months going through chemo, radiation, surgery, they basically did everything. I had Ewing sarcoma in my lower back." Thomason plays defensive end for Clinton High in Clinton, SC. Thomason has grown up pulling for the Gamecocks, going to the USC football games with his father, who is a 23 year Gamecock Club member and season ticket holder.

The USC football team is not the only Gamecock team involved with Children's Chance. The group's next major fundraising event is a clinic sponsored by the USC men's soccer team and the Columbia YMCA on February 16-17. Called the "C.A.P.S. Clinic 2008", the 9th annual clinic is geared towards parents and children being together to learn soccer from the Carolina Gamecock coaching staff and varsity team.

CC's Higgins gushed as she talked about the support her organization has received over the years from USC soccer. "Coach (Mark) Berson and Coach (Bert) Molinary and their staff have just been awesome," she said. "It is one of annual fundraisers, and the clinic for ages 4-14." All the proceeds from the clinic go to Children's Chance, who uses the funds raised to pay for programs at the three local hospitals that treat cancer patients. Those programs benefit 300-500 children each year, according to Higgins.

For more information about the soccer clinic or Children's Chance, please call 803-254-5996 or visit www.childrenschance.org.

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