The trees, wreaths and festive lights were still up Tuesday at the Children’s of Alabama hospital as special visitors arrived to spread some post-Christmas cheer.
Members of the South Carolina and South Florida football teams, in town for Thursday’s Birmingham Bowl, stopped in at the hospital to meet with patients and their families.
Gifts were handed out. New friends were made. Smiles were aplenty.
“We’re just trying to be a good light for them and shed some happiness on them,” USC senior quarterback Perry Orth said. “They’re going through some tough times. My favorite part was meeting people who were actually leaving the hospital today because they’re overcoming their issue and getting better.”
Orth was joined on the visit by fellow quarterbacks Jake Bentley, Brandon McIlwain and Michael Scarnecchia. A group of 30 Gamecocks toured the hospital’s patient rooms and teamed up with South Florida players to deliver gifts of T-shirts, stuffed animals and other toys.
“It’s a chance to make a kid’s day,” freshman defensive back Morgan Vest said. “A little ‘Hey,’ a gift and some motivation can go a long way.”
South Carolina’s off-field bowl week itinerary includes meals, bowling and a comedy club event. The hospital visit, a community service mainstay on bowl trips, is a team favorite, players agreed.
“It’s important to be here,” freshman linebacker Trey Mitchell said. “This is so much more important than football games. When I was younger, I spent Christmastime in the hospital. I know it’s tough.”
Mitchell and Vest were joined by South Florida interim coach T.J. Weist to interact with patients and their families. They met fans of the Dallas Cowboys, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Carolina Panthers and Alabama Crimson Tide.
One youngster, an Alabama fan, was so overjoyed he let out a boisterous, “Roll, Tide, Roll” cheer.
Children’s reactions were a topic of discussion as the tour concluded.
“I put my hand out there and one kid, it looked like his eyes were about to pop out when he noticed how big my hand was,” offensive lineman Donell Stanley said.
The hospital visit is an opportunity to use their platform as college football players for a good cause, players said.
“Those kids go through a lot and they’re so young,” Stanley said. “For those kids to see people they might see on TV, they look up to us. We have to set a good example for them.”