Vanderbilt student-athletes form partnership with campus event.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – During a timeout in the middle of last Saturday’s basketball game between Vanderbilt and Alabama, the video screen at Memorial Gymnasium showed a 10-year-old boy sitting courtside. The boy, Hank, received a round of applause from the black-and-gold crowd at Memorial. Afterwards, he beamed when asked to re-live his Commodore spotlight.
“It was really something to be on the jumbotron,” Hank said. “I don’t usually get to do that. But it was really fun to have some pom-poms and a front-row seat. It was just a wonderful time.”
Hank attended Saturday’s game as a special guest for the Commodores. The Vanderbilt basketball program “adopted” Hank as its Miracle Child in partnership with Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon, an annual campus event that has raised more than $2 million for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt since 2003. This year’s installment of the event takes place this Saturday at Vanderbilt’s multipurpose indoor complex.
Hank is one example of a Miracle Child who has experienced the impact of Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt first-hand. Hank was born one month early at a different hospital while suffering from severe complications to his digestive system. He underwent two surgeries on the first day of his life and two more by the age of seven months, all at Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Isaiah Rice, a sophomore walk-on guard, helped to spearhead Vanderbilt basketball’s involvement with Hank and Dance Marathon. This week, Rice got to meet Hank and his family after a recent practice at Memorial Gym. The sophomore said Hank is a perfect example of why it’s important to give back to your community.
“In our program, we talk about toughness and things of that nature,” Rice said. “Someone like Hank, and all the other kids at the children’s hospital, kind of embody that. I felt like this was the perfect thing to do, not only to do something good in the community but to get the other guys involved in community outreach.”
The involvement of Rice and Vanderbilt basketball in Dance Marathon was the result of an internship project by Andre Mintze, a redshirt sophomore linebacker for Vanderbilt football. Last summer, Mintze used Vanderbilt’s student-athlete internship program to shadow Casey Stein, the director of student engagement for Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Through his internship, Mintze realized few collegiate athletic departments hosted a fundraising partnership with their local Children’s Hospital and collegiate dance marathon. He decided to begin one with Vanderbilt Athletics.
Last July, Mintze used his internship capstone project to create “Dancing Dores,” a Dance Marathon fundraising competition between Vanderbilt athletic programs. In all, nine Commodore programs have formed teams to raise funds for Dance Marathon. Two have hosted Miracle Kids like Hank at recent games and practices.
“Dancing Dores is the first partnership between a division one athletic program and a collegiate dance marathon where student-athletes are participating and fundraising as individuals,” Stein said. “They are paving the way for other schools to engage and unite their athletes in the fastest growing peer-to-peer fundraising event, Dance Marathon. The impact the Vanderbilt athletes have had on Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon, the miracle families, and our hospital is immeasurable.”
Vanderbilt Athletics’ involvement with the Dance Marathon would not have happened without the vision of Mintze, who saw a chance to make a difference on campus.
“We’ve been fundraising this entire season and competing against other teams,” Mintze said. “That’s the whole idea. Getting student-athletes involved in a different away… It benefits the kids who are treated at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. They actually come to the Dance Marathon so you see where your money is going. When I was there, I met the kids and parents and it touched me how you can see who you’re fundraising for and how it affects their lives.”
Katelen Robertson, coordinator for student-athlete development at Vanderbilt, said she is proud of Mintze, Rice and other Commodores for sparking a new initiative on West End.
“We are in the business of fostering well-rounded student-athletes, and being of service to others is huge piece of that,” Robertson said. “Whether it be tutoring at an after-school program, donating time to the homeless or raising funds and awareness through Dance Marathon for our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, connecting with something bigger than yourself can be life-changing. I am both impressed — but not surprised — and overjoyed at the student-athletes’ involvement and dedication to this initiative. They have truly dug deep and set the bar high in the first year of the Dancing Dores program. This is a true testament of our student-athletes’ heart for others.”
Dance Marathon 2019 takes place this Saturday at Vanderbilt’s Multipurpose Complex. The event kicks off at 1 p.m. CT and features a 13.1-hour party with music, dancing, food, and entertainment acts. A “student-athlete hour” will take place from 5-6 p.m., when Vanderbilt student-athletes will present money raised to Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt to benefit patient families.
As of Wednesday, Vanderbilt Athletics teams have raised more than $18,000 for Dance Marathon. Their goal is to reach $20,000 by Saturday. But student-athletes boasts five of the university’s top 30 fundraisers, including Rice at No. 2 overall. Rice sits just $6,472 away from the No. 1 spot, followed by No. 10 Elijah McAllister (football), No. 25 Andre Mintze (football), No. 27 Drew Birchmeier (football) and No. 29 Rebecca Rossett (soccer). Fans can donate through Saturday at this link.
No matter the final fundraising tally for the Commodores, Rice said Dance Marathon has given student-athletes a unique opportunity to give back.
“Anybody who has any kind of platform like this, they should use that platform to give back to their community,” Rice said. “That’s what I want to show our guys. I know other athletic teams are involved, as well. We’re all rallying together to use our platform and our influence in the community to do something for kids like Hank.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.