Aaron Rodgers, Emilie and Jack make it a day for all to remember

We have all heard it said that children have a way of bringing the best out of people. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and even next door neighbors would probably agree. As a father of 6, I am not sure there would always be a consensus when it comes to siblings. I would imagine that you could also say blitzing linemen have a way of bringing the best out in a talented quarterback. The 10,000 people attending the March 13 Milwaukee Wave Indoor Professional Soccer game with the Wave taking on the Omaha Vipers saw two children bring out the best in a very talented quarterback who has had to do more than his share of eluding blitzing linemen.

Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers made his first appearance back in Wisconsin at the Wave game following the Packers’ triumphant return to Titletown after their thrilling Super Bowl victory. He was there once again on behalf of the MACC Fund in an impressive pre-game presentation before the Wave – Vipers game which showed a side of the QB few have had a chance to see.

Prior to joining the teams on the field after visiting with the Wave players, coaches and staff in the Wave’s locker room, Aaron had a chance to meet two young fans helped by the MACC Fund. It is hard to say whose smile was bigger when the kids bounded through the locker room door. Aaron’s championship smile matched theirs. It might have been the only time he would be content with a tie. One of the kids, Jack Bartosz, is 9. He was diagnosed with cancer at 4. In 2006, he stole the show at the MACC Fund’s 30th Birthday Part at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee as he joined other children and adults affected by cancer on the stage in the grand ballroom representing those children diagnosed with cancer in 2005. His curly blond hair as a 4-year-old then was a distant memory now for this beautiful 9-year-old. He had just returned 90 minutes before this special visit from treatment at Sloan-Kettering in New York City to meet his favorite Packer, with a very special assist from the MACC Fund’s great friends at Frontier Airlines. Jack is also treated at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, home of the MACC Fund Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Jack was joined by his friend, 7-year-old Emilie Janzen. Emilie was diagnosed with cancer around her fifth birthday. She designed the 2010 TODAY’S TMJ4 MACC*Star with the theme Love, Smile and Be Happy which sums her up well.

Aaron was clearly in his element, and not because he was in a locker room. It was because he was with two of the children who inspired him to join the MACC Fund team a year ago. The kids were, well, kids. They were precious and precocious and totally uninhibited as kids should be. At one point, Jack said “My parents didn’t think you would win that game, but I knew 100% you would.” His parents’ astonishment was offset but Aaron’s growing smile. Even in the face of this candid announcement, Aaron was as comfortable and impressive with Jack and Emilie as he was leading a Packers scoring drive. He was having fun and his newfound friends were having a ball. I was blessed to be an interested observer along with Aaron’s impressive business and marketing management team from RBSH Enterprises, Inc., H Koal and Carla Cossy. In the quiet of the locker room, Aaron invited Jack and Emilie to sit next to him as though he was going to read them a story. It was reminiscent of the iconic television program, “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” It was better than that Mister Rodgers’ story time though since this Mr. Rodgers gave them something to cherish for a lifetime. He autographed a Super Bowl ticket for each of them while their wide eyes rivaled their growing smiles.

As game time approached, Aaron took their hands and headed toward the arena. Jack let go of his hand after a while, but I am not sure Emilie ever did. She knows a good man when she sees one and she was not about to let him go! The crowds cheered as they walked on the field, waving and smiling. Aaron thanked the Wave management, coaches and players and all in attendance for helping the MACC Fund which he said “means so much to him.” He said it is “the children who drive him to want to help the MACC Fund.” He then said “the children are my heroes.” He had his new friends at his side to reinforce that. Emilie was sporting a stylish new hairstyle following several years of chemotherapy and Jack’s beautiful head showed the effects of rigorous treatment. You would never know he was in the midst of treatment though when you saw his smile.

Photo by Cory Zimmerman, Milwaukee Wave

Aaron autographed Jack’s and Emilie’s #12 green jerseys for all to see and enjoyed watching patiently as Emilie carefully autographed her 2010 TODAY’S TMJ4 MACC*Star for him. The crowd loved it and so did Aaron as he handled her handoff of the MACC*Star with the grace of a running back. Looking back, I think the signing was the only time she left go of his hand. As the crowd cheered, Emilie said “thank you” into the microphone and the crowd cheered even louder. Then it was Jack’s turn to talk and few will forget his enthusiastic “thanks for this big check to the MACC Fund.” The crowd cheered as Aaron, Jack and Emilie left the field throwing mini-soccer balls to the cheering fans.

It was a great day for the MACC Fund, one of the best ever. And Jack was right when he said “Thanks for this big check to the MACC Fund.” It was a check for $12,500 which grew to nearly $17,000 following a gameful of fund-raising efforts by the dedicated and enthusiastic Wave organization. The Wave has made quite a reputation for themselves for their great play on the field as well as their charitable support in the community under the ownership of Jim Lindenberg as they have for a quarter of a century under other generous owners.

The kids were thrilled and Aaron was clearly moved by the warm welcome back to Wisconsin, the hospitality of the Wave and especially by the kids he had met. Kids like Jack and Emilie are the reason the MACC Fund exists. It is why Aaron joined the legions of all of the great people who help the MACC Fund raise life-saving research funds to do more and more to push for a cure for cancer further and faster. Everyone thinks that Emilie and Jack will never forget the day they met Aaron. I bet it is safe to say that Aaron will never forget the day he met them! His actions said as much in the quiet of the car leaving the arena. His fine business manager H Koal, who has warmly embraced the MACC Fund along with his partner Carla Cossy, sat next to me in the front seat. H broke the silence by quietly saying to Aaron “You were great.” Just as quietly, deflecting attention, Aaron repeated in almost reverential tones “Those kids. Those kids.” Aaron summed up the MACC Fund well, and his reason for embracing it, in the simplicity of those two words – “Those kids.”

Two heartfelt emails captured the magic of the day well. The first is from Emilie’s mom, Kelly.
“Erich and I can’t thank you enough for the amazing experience you gave Emilie to meet Aaron. It was just a thrill for her and all of us. It was certainly a dream come true!! Many, many thanks!!! We will send Aaron a personal thank you note…Thank you!” Kelly and family

Jack’s mom Sarah wrote:
“Jack was on Cloud Nine . . . make that an Aaron Rodgers Cloud #12! Jack had an amazing time and went to bed with a huge smile telling me it was the ‘best day of his life.’ As he said, ‘I met Aaron Rodgers, the Wave won, I ran around on the field, and I met the soccer players. How could it get better than that?’ I’ve been in tears just thinking about it – seeing my MVP cancer hero meet his own hero was priceless. After the week and the 5+ years of treatment we’ve had, to see Jack meet his hero was absolute perfection. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Sarah and family

No one knows a child like their mom. Kelly and Sarah are great moms who have seen their children experience many different things. They knew this was a magical day. Aaron’s tweets later that night affirmed it as well. Thanks again to the entire Wave organization and to their great fans who filled the Arena, to Aaron and to “those kids,” Emilie and Jack, for making it such a great day in the 35-year history of the MACC Fund which lived up to its time honored slogan of “A good time for a good cause!”

John M. Cary, Executive Director

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