Representatives of all four major professional sports franchises and some of the big area colleges like the University of Miami served as auctioneers at The Make-A-Wish Ultimate Sports Auction hosted by The Make-A-Wish Foundation. The fact this was the first time in the event’s 19-year history that the auction and dinner took place at the home of the Miami Dolphins was an added appeal, but new Head Coach Joe Philbin understands the true meaning of the event and the foundation.
“Having been in the NFL for nine years and seeing the impact of a Make-A-Wish child when he visits an NFL practice and an NFL facility and an NFL game, it’s emotional,” said Philbin, who is in his second month at the helm. “When you see the kids, the challenges that they have, the courage that they have and to be able to show some support for them s they deal with an enormously difficult situation that they’re in, it’s a privilege to have an opportunity to help out in any way possible.”
Philbin showed up with his wife, Diane, at his side and later stepped onto the stage surrounded by some of his current players to auction off the Fins Up Package, which eventually went for $6,000. Wide receivers
Norm Wedderburn, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish of Southern Florida, pointed out that for years former Dolphins and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino was the most popular wish request among celebrity athletes. On this night he was hoping to raise between $200,000 and 250,000 through the live and silent auctions so that they can deliver on anywhere between 40 and 50 wishes to kids with life-threatening illnesses.
“Obviously, the Miami Dolphins are the longest-tenured professional sports team in this community and they have been connected to Make-A-Wish really since our inception,” Wedderburn said. “We’ve always had a long and great relationship with the Dolphins and that’s why we really felt like coming here was the place to do it, where we’ve had the long-standing support of the Dolphins.”
Former Dolphins like Nat Moore and Jeff Cross also were on hand along with former Dolphins assistant coach Howard Schnellenberger, who was there as an ambassador for Florida Atlantic University. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was the featured guest speaker.
Even the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh couldn’t ignore the history and tradition of the Dolphins and their natural fit as the centerpiece for the Make-A-Wish auction.
“Everybody loves the Dolphins,” said Bosh, who has been the subject of a Make-A-Wish child’s wish before. “And this event just gives kids the chance to do something that normally wouldn’t happen. They’re not in the best of circumstances but just to try to uplift them in some kind of way, you never know how that can help someone. That might get them to the state of being healthy and making people happy I think that’s the first step to getting 100 percent and as healthy as possible.”
For the current Dolphins players like Bess and Garner, this was a unique opportunity for them to see a part of the stadium they really are not that familiar with. Their typical Sunday is confined to the field, the locker room and the players’ parking lot.
“It’s real weird to come in and see it on this side because I’ve never even been to this gate before,” Garner said as he entered the lobby at Gate C and headed up to the club level.
Of course what was happening upstairs was meaningful to Garner and his teammates, especially to Bess, who has chosen to focus on the needs of kids in his off-the-field work for the Dolphins.
“It means a lot just to come out and be able to support something that I’m 100 percent about and my foundation’s all about,” he said. “So I’m honored to be here.”
During the dinner and live auction, Bess, Garner, Philbin, Bosh and the other celebrities shifted the honor to the most influential speaker of the night, young Matt Milligan of Bonita Springs. The 16-year-old burgeoning photographer was born with ataxic cerebral palsy and doctors told his parents he might never walk.
By the time he finished with his inspirational speech documenting the road to his wish, which was to meet the editor of National Geographic Magazine, Milligan had earned a standing ovation. That became a granted wish he hadn’t originally made.
“Dan Marino’s my favorite Dolphin so to be up there in front of Davone Bess and all of the others was cool,” said Milligan, who is home schooled. “I was surprised when they all did the standing ovation and it’s hard to take everything in. I mean I’m standing with some of the greatest athletes to date and it’s amazing.”