The joy was evident in the eyes of six-year-old Malique. He had latched on Wisconsin junior defensive back Johnny White and he was not about to let him go. Who is your favorite football player? Malique was asked. “Johnny,” he said with a quick smile.
It was a scene that was repeated over and over on Wednesday, as 150 disadvantaged Central Florida kids enjoyed an afternoon of food, games, music and fellowship with Auburn and Wisconsin players at the annual “Day For Kids Festival” held Wednesday afternoon at Tinker Field.
The Festival, now in its 15th year, pairs the children with one football player from each team participating in this year’s Capital One Bowl. The players escorted the kids for the afternoon. Walt Disney World, the event’s main sponsor, arranges all the entertainment, which includes inflatables, face painters, games, a hay ride and visits by WDW’s most famous residents — Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Goofy.
As part of the festivities, the children were given a gift bag – which included items from both schools. A barbecue lunch was served.
“This has been a great afternoon,” White said. “Malique and I have done just about everything here. I tried to get him to sit down and eat, but he wanted to throw the football around. It’s been non-stop for him and a lot of fun for me.”
Badger lineman Joe Thomas echoed the sentiments. “The best part of the day is meeting the kids. Whenever you get to brighten the life of a child, it’s a good day,” Thomas said. “Getting to meet some of the players from the other team adds to the experience.”
Auburn’s James Swinton said the opportunity to become a role model was important. “I’m having a great time out here. Loving the kids and having them love us back…everything is magnificent. A lot of these kids don’t have a father figure or role model to look up to and if we can change that for just a day, it’s a great thing. I know if I was a little kid, I would love to be here today, so it’s a great feeling.”
Florida Citrus Sports Foundation Executive Director Shannon Clark said the day would not be possible without the help of the sponsors. “This is one of our most popular events and it wouldn’t be possible without our friends,” Clark said. “Disney provides all the entertainment, including providing volunteers to run the rides and games. All the food and beverages are donated by i wanna distributors, Coca-Cola and Sysco. Other than field rental, everything needed for this event is donated and we’re so thankful that they make this wonderful day possible.”