The Sports Department at radio and television stations are sometimes called the “Toy Department” because we usually don’t deal with or have to report on the ugly stories going on in the real world. In case you haven’t noticed lately, there’s not much good news out there. At least it’s not being reported very often.
On February 4th my wife and I were invited to go to the St. Louis University/Dayton basketball game at Chaifetz Arena on the SLU campus by Bill Slattery. I’ve known Bill through a club we both belong to. He said, “I have to get there early because of the kids I take care of.” I thought he had to get ball boys and girls to the game. Turns out it was much more than that.
We were in for a treat. Bill played for the Billikens in the early 1950’s. He bleeds Billiken Blue. And, for the last 17 years at every Billiken home game, Bill hosts a young child–usually under 11–who is very ill. Cardinal Glennan Hospital screens the children and gives Slattery the parents phone number. He takes it from there. He invites the child and family to join him at the game. He gets them special parking privileges. That Saturday the youngster was in a wheel chair after surgery for brain cancer. The child was the ”honorary captain” for the game that day. Bill does it all. We were with him as he greeted the boy and treated him like a rock star. He gets an honorary captain shirt and a tour of Chaifetz. He gets a basketball autographed by the team. Coaches greet the child. Cheerleaders make over him. He gets high 5’s. He gets his picture take with them. Everyone that sees Bill and the boy knows what’s going on. The boy’s smile gets a little bigger all the time. He and his family stays courtside during the pre game warm ups. Then comes the big moment.
This happens at halftime of every game. Bill escorts the child to center court with the arena spotlights shining on them. Guy Phillips, the public address announcer, tells the crowd to welcome that games honorary captain. His picture is on the big screen televisions on the four corners of the arena. The student body and the pep band gives him a standing ovation. I had tears running down my face. The joy that moment brings to that child is more than heart warming, it was overwhelming.
Slattery told us that he often feels selfish because he gets so much out of doing this. He remembers a 9 year old “honorary captain” who was holding his parents hands. Suddenly, he threw his arms around Slattery and gave him a hug. He asked Bill to hug him back because “he was afraid–because he knew he was going to die.”
Bill has treated over 300 children at the games over the years. He said he would continue doing it as long as he can. A special gesture by a special man.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if stories like this would be on the 10 o’clock news once in a while.