Carter Gaddis from the Tampa Tribune interviewed Angela before the Lightning Foundation Christmas party last Saturday. Here is a link to the story and the actual story. I hope I don’t get in trouble for this, i give all the credit to Carter and … charities/

Pro Teams Have Big Impact On Charities

Published: December 23, 2007

TAMPA – When confronted with the choice of losing his job at a Winter Haven warehouse or spending as much time as possible at the hospital with his cancer-stricken daughter, Michael Gates never flinched.

“There was no decision, in my eyes, to make,” Gates said.

The hospital it was, even though it meant the family would have to move in with Gates’ mother in Lakeland while Christina Gates, now 14, underwent extensive, costly and time-consuming treatment for leukemia at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

“We kind of lost everything we had,” Gates said. “But those were material things.”

A bone-marrow transplant saved Christina’s life. The family began to pick up the pieces of a shattered existence.

And that’s when one of the less-publicized benefits of having three major professional sports franchises representing the region came to bear on the Gates family.

The Bucs, Lightning and Rays, and the players who wear their uniforms, generally are expected to provide inhabitants of the Tampa Bay area with entertainment and, occasionally, a championship to celebrate.

Then there are those whose everyday lives have become too trying for a touchdown, a game-winning goal or a home run – or even a Stanley Cup or Lombardi Trophy – to register as meaningful. These are the people, like Michael Gates, whose lives have been forever altered by the charitable endeavors of the area’s three pro teams.

The cynic sees a photograph of a famous athlete with his arm draped across the shoulders of a beaming but obviously ill child and thinks, “Wow, great publicity for that guy.”

And yes, in addition to the altruistic motives of the individuals who give their time and money, there is an element of marketing involved. What better way for a professional sports franchise to create an emotional bond with its fan base than by reaching out to the under-privileged or seriously ill?

All three teams have a full-time staff member devoted to coordinating and publicizing charitable efforts in the community. It’s as much a part of the business as scouting and player development.

Yet, even the most hardened cynic can’t ignore the results. Behind the smiles in those photographs lies a world of pain and uncertainty that can’t be understood unless it is experienced.

“In order to really appreciate the smiles on their faces and the joy they see, you have to turn back a chapter and look back at where they have been,” said Angela Powell, whose 3-year-old daughter, Adelaine, is undergoing leukemia treatments. “These children have been in the trenches of death, literally. Some days they’re not even able to lift their heads off their pillow because they’re so lethargic and nauseous and in intense pain.”

By sacrificing an hour or an afternoon, an athlete can create an island of happiness that’s as precious to the family as it is to the patient.

“What they’re doing, essentially, is improving their quality of life,” Powell said. “The children are going through a horrible time. None of us would have chosen this, but nonetheless, it’s here. If all they do is suffer, then what’s even the point of going through the battle?

“Every day Adelaine has a good day, it puts back what was taken from her all those days of her suffering and being so sick.”

The Powell family – Adelaine, Angela, dad Doug and brothers Mason and Bowen – experienced one of those days of joy last week, when Lightning center Brad Richards was their host for the team’s annual Children’s Cancer Center party at the St. Pete Times Forum.

It wasn’t the first time the family made Richards’ acquaintance; they’ve attended games in his Richie’s Rascals suite at the Forum and Richards played street hockey with the boys after the announcement of an expansion of his charitable foundation this fall.

“There are so many things you can do,” said Richards, who lost his cousin and best friend, Jamie Reynolds, to a brain tumor when both were children growing up in Prince Edward Island. “You pick some things close to your heart. I don’t know what it does for you. You see people in tough situations, things you wish you could help change. You wish you could do more. You wish you could cure everything.”

Organizations such as the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the Children’s Cancer Center and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center also reap the benefits of being associated with the local sports franchises and players.

“Being able to attach your name to the sports teams gives you the audience that’s very hard to find,” said Lisa Orlando, director of communications and marketing with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. “It opens the door to a wider variety of people that might not be looking for that in their giving. By attaching it to the Rays or the Buccaneers, they might say, ‘I’m interested in that.’”

“What would we do without them?” said Kathy Werner, director of marketing and special events at Moffitt. “I don’t know.”

On a personal level, the same could be said for Michael Gates, whose experience as the father of a cancer patient cost him his old job, but whose interaction with Lightning president Ron Campbell and his wife, Mary Jane Campbell, laid the foundation for a new career.

Last week, Gates celebrated the completion of a two-year program to become certified as an oncology nurse. His tuition and books were paid for by the Lightning Foundation, and he now works at the same hospital where his daughter spent so many agonizing days and nights battling cancer.

“He’s going to make a darn good nurse, too,” said Mary Jane Campbell, who along with her husband, came to know the Gateses well through the team’s adopt-a-family program that takes place every year during the holiday season.

“I always wanted to do something else, but I never knew what,” Gates said. “I never in a million years figured it would be the medical field, but it felt so natural.”

The 128-mile round-trip commute to St. Petersburg from Lakeland used to be an adventure in Gates’ old truck. But when the Campbells’ daughter went away to college, Mary Jane and Ron offered to sell Gates their daughter’s BMW for the price Gates could get for his truck.

“Words can’t really describe how much we appreciate it,” said Sherry Gates, Michael’s wife. “It’s been life-changing. It’s our family’s future, and they’ve helped make that possible.”


Making A Difference
A complete list of the volunteer work and charitable donations of the Bucs, Lightning and Rays and their players would fill an encyclopedia. Here is a small sample, by no means comprehensive, of some the programs and gestures that have made a difference in the Tampa Bay area over the years:

Brooks Bunch, Derrick Brooks (Bucs): The 2000 NFL Walter Payton co-Man of the Year (with Jim Flanigan) focuses his time and energy on helping kids with difficult socio-economic backgrounds learn life skills and prepare for college. He has taken dozens of kids on educational field trips around the world – most notably to Africa in 2000 – and helped found the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, a charter school in Tampa.

Homes For the Holidays, Warrick Dunn (Bucs): The 2004 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year began to help single mothers become first-time homeowners in 1997 in Tampa, while with the Bucs. Since then, Dunn has helped 69 single mothers and 181 children in Tampa, Baton Rouge, La., and Atlanta, including 29 mothers and 74 children in Tampa. He expanded the program this year to include Tallahassee.

Richie’s Rascals, Brad Richards (Lightning): Each season, Richards leases a specially renovated suite at the St. Pete Times Forum for pediatric cancer patients and their families to come to Lightning games in a secure, private, kid-friendly environment. The suite allows kids whose immune systems are depleted to enjoy a game without being exposed to a crowd.

Center for Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders, Vinny Lecavalier (Lightning): Lecavalier pledged this fall to donate $3 million to All Children’s Hospital to help fund construction of a new wing with private rooms and all the amenities needed to enable pediatric cancer patients cope as well as they can. The new wing will bear his name.

Thanksmas, Joe Maddon (Rays): Holiday meals are prepared for approximately 500 people in need from the St. Vincent de Paul Society in St. Petersburg, the Salvation Army in Bradenton and Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. Maddon, the Rays manager, shops for all the groceries, helps prepare the food and delivers it to the diners with help from Rays front-office personnel.

Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament, Chuck LaMar (Rays): The former Rays general manager hosted the event for its first eight years, after which Hall of Famer and former Rays third baseman Wade Boggs stepped in. The tournament has raised more than $500,000 for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation to help fund cancer research.

Reporter Carter Gaddis can be reached at (813) 259-8291 or

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