Make-A-Wish means more than good publicity

by Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel

Life-threatening illnesses for children are some of the saddest situations we encounter in this world.

With this thought in mind, the Make-A-Wish foundation makes a mission to “grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”

Make-A-Wish has granted over 180,000 wishes nationally and grants one every 40 minutes, according to Make-A-Wish Utah.

One of these wishes directly impacted the Shoals area. The UNA softball team took Gracie Billups, a nine-year-old girl from Colorado struggling with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, under its wing during its national championship run May 17-21.

A number of UNA faithfuls made the trip to see the Lions perform, but in the meantime watched Gracie toss the first pitch of the Division II Softball World Series. Gracie instantly gravitated to the UNA softball team and their dugout shenanigans.

Fast-forward to Sept. 15-17, where the UNA Athletics Department invited the Billups family to Florence to witness the team receive their national championship rings.

I spent a couple of hours with Gracie and her family as she went to visit Leo III and Una, which she said was her favorite part of the day. The following afternoon, the Billups family joined me in the home radio booth at Braly Stadium. These were just a few items on Gracie’s busy itinerary.

Saturday at UNA’s home football opener, Gracie stood with the team during their ring ceremony. To Gracie’s surprise, UNA head softball coach Ashley Cozart and Director of Athletics Mark Linder presented Gracie with a ring of her own.

The smile on Gracie’s face throughout both days was priceless. She received celebrity treatment, and her family seemed appreciative for everything. My perception of the Billups family is that they are humble and grateful.

In today’s society, unfortunately, we have people who are quick to point out the unessential negatives.

Some people automatically associate a foundation like Make-A-Wish with the term “publicity stunt.” Others label it “a good public relations move.”

I’ve also heard at times people mention how unimportant sports are to life.

Gracie Billups is living proof that neither of these is true.

Gracie Billups has memories that will last a lifetime, and no amount of “good PR” will ever come close to the happiness this child experienced in Denver and in the Shoals.

Billups, who said she happens to be a softball fan, has a get-away from her medical struggles, whether it is a softball game, a football game, the Pride of Dixie Marching Band performing at halftime or four students running into each other in Listerhill’s halftime rendition of “Knockerballs.”

Each citizen who encounters her shares the smiles she had. Her positivity has impacted me, as it has many others.

When it comes to making a wish come true and comparing it to a “publicity stunt,” we should view things for what they are and not for how they appear.

It’s easy to look at something without having any knowledge of the situation and label it as strictly beneficial for the athletics department or for the media.

But when one sees it up close and personal, they realize this isn’t about the general public. It’s about Gracie. It’s about the thousands of other children who struggle with childhood illnesses and seeing the smile on their face from their one wish.

Besides, the more we help one another, the closer we get to becoming a better world. This is why Gracie is an inspiration.