University of North Dakota football players acted as Santa’s helpers Saturday, Dec. 8, by putting on the annual Holiday Magic from Markus charity event, which benefits children in the pediatric department of Altru Clinic.
This charity makes the holiday season a little brighter for some very deserving people by providing area children diagnosed with chronic, debilitation illnesses or cancer with Christmas gifts directly from their personal wish lists.
The centerpiece of the event, which took place at the Alerus Center, was a brightly lit Christmas trees and the mounds of presents that surrounded it. This year, four deserving families got to participate in the event. As the families and children walked through the doors the football players immediately knelt down and shook their hands. The kids then proceeded to run and play tag and “duck-duck goose” with the team members.
This year’s event was different not only because it was in a different venue from the Altru Clinic, where it had been previously held; it was different because the children and families also got a tour of the football field and team locker room. Seeing them run around, play and have fun was just the thing to put smiles on every parent’s face.
Then the children got to sit around the tree and open their presents. It was special because the both the children and their siblings received gifts that were on their lists.
One inspirational little boy sparked this tradition that has been carried out for 11 years. In 2002, the UND football team started this event in honor of their loyal fan, Markus Bryant, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 13.
Markus wrote numerous letters of encouragement to the 2001 team to fire them up for games. Being the huge UND football fan that he was, he had the opportunity to meet the 2001 team and quickly made a lasting impression. That year, Markus became an adoptive member of the football team attending practices, games and helping to raise the 2001 NCAA Division II championship trophy after traveling to Florence, Ala., with the team.
In 2002, Markus’s health continued to decline, but that didn’t stop his letter-writing campaign to his favorite team. The team that year had endured some tough losses but Markus continued to come to practices and attend games whenever he could. At the end of the season, the senior class wanted to create an organization that gives back to young, courageous people like Markus. In that same year, Markus passed away, but not before giving his blessing for the team to establish “Holiday Magic from Markus.”
At this year’s event, Markus’es mother, Deb Oatman, was delighted to know her son has had an effect so many people.
“It’s so amazing and just blows my mind that this event has been going on for 11 years now,” she said.
Sue Hafner, a retired nurse practitioner in the pediatric department at Altru, has been a key part of the event’s success.
She gathers the wish lists from the families of a selected number of pediatric patients and then assists in the shopping, wrapping and hand-delivering the gifts at the Christmas party each year.
“We try to make it so that families don’t have to shop for Christmas presents. It’s one less thing for the parents to worry about and the children get the presents that were on their lists,” Hafner said. “I think the football players have a fun time shopping for the children and wrapping the gifts. They get to see how lucky they are to be healthy and playing UND football.”
The players all looked to be having a blast. They played with the Barbies, trucks, Legos, skateboards and other toys the children received and looked happy to be able to put smiles on these children’s faces.
Brett Cameron, UND senior punter, has been doing this for three years now.
“It’s just cool to see their faces light up when they open their presents,” he said. “It’s almost like we become kids again when we get to pick out the toys and wrap them.”
This is the first year Alec Carrothers, freshman defensive lineman, has participated in Holiday Magic from Markus.
“Honestly it’s very humbling and great to see these kids who have gone through so much have such happy reactions when opening their gifts,” he said.
Chris Beatty, who was a member of the 2001 National Championship Team, continually comes back to witness the event year after year. He thinks of Markus often and recalls the impact the young man had on his team and the ones that have followed.
“This event has truly become a part of the UND football tradition and the impact it has had on myself, my teammates and even guys who have played over the last decade is powerful,” Beatty said. “If we can give them one day or even one hour to not have to think about expenses or what is going on medically, then that is what this is all about.”
Although Markus is no longer with us, he continues to leave a lasting impression, not only on the UND football team, but in the Grand Forks community. Because of his dedication, positivity and school spirit, this charity is able to give children the hope and courage to keep up the fight, not to mention give them a Christmas they will never forget.
To donate to Holiday Magic from Markus please send your donation to UND Football, c/o Holiday Magic from Markus, Memorial Stadium, 2623 2nd Ave. N. Stop 9047, Grand Forks, ND 58202 or visit online at www.holidaymagicfrommarkus.com.
Kate Menzies, student writer, University Relations