On the balcony of the UAB Legacy Pavilion and practice field there hangs a banner with the names of 500 Children’s Harbor kids. It serves as a daily reminder to the UAB football team that they play not only for the university on the front of their jersey, but for one game a year — homecoming — the kids and families at Children’s Harbor.
It is one of the best college football homecoming traditions in the nation.
How it Started
In 2016, through the direction of UAB Head Coach Bill Clark, the team adopted Children’s Harbor as their community charity. Each season since then, UAB football players have worn the name of a Children’s Harbor child, in memory or honor, on the back of their homecoming jersey.
“I cannot tell you how many times somebody will come up to me,” said Coach Clark during his Homecoming Week press conference on Monday.
“A dad, A mom. A former patient. They say coach, I was at your game, I’m still in contact with this player. I have players tell me all the time that they have stayed in contact with the patients and former patients. It is a lifetime. I really think it is that special. It is a big deal to me. A big honor for us.”
Children’s Harbor Kids and Families
According to Children’s Harbor CEO Cat Outzen, 500 children and families have been able to experience this special Homecoming tradition over the past five years.
“Children’s Harbor has been around for more than 30 years,” she said. “Our mission is to serve seriously ill children and their families, to help them cope, adapt and thrive. So we do everything from counseling and financial aid. We have 66 acres (a camp at Lake Martin) that provides respite and activities. Anything that a family needs, to help them get through this very stressful time. We’re there for them.”
More Than the Jerseys
Along with the UAB jerseys Children’s Harbor kids and families will have an opportunity to experience the full game day experience. Brasfield and Gorrie is serving as the “Champion for Our Kids” sponsor for this year’s game.
That means Children’s Harbor will be able to bring 100 families, 350 people, to the game. Expenses, such as food and transportation are paid.
“For some of these families this is almost like their vacation,” added Outzen. “This is the one time of year that they’re going to be able to get out and really have a great time.”
Playing for the Kids
Another highlight this week — the players, kids and families will have an opportunity to meet. At the press conference, UAB cornerback Starling Thomas greeted Knox Zobrosky and his mother Catherine.
Thomas, who is from Birmingham, reminded the gathering that the hospital is just up the street and that the kids are watching and inspiring the team.
Coach Clark summed up this special UAB Homecoming tradition best.
“We are a product of people who believed in us and fought to bring us back. And that is what is going on with this game. We are playing for the name on the back. Even more so than the name on the front.”