One Special Night
April 3, 2012
By Jon Cooper
It's not often that a pregame event can upstage the game itself, but tonight at Bailey Park on the campus of Kennesaw State University likely will be one of those times.
Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State meet in what promises to be an entertaining softball game (first pitch is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.).
Prior to first pitch, KSU is holding its Fourth Annual Lexi Night. It's a night in which Kennesaw State raises money for local children who have been stricken with disabilities. The night is named for eight-year-old Alexis Kaiser. Lexi, is one of triplets, but was born with cerebral palsy (her brother and sister were healthy).
The event began a few years back when KSU Softball Head Coach Scott Whitlock met Lexi.
"[Lexi Night] came about because I met a very, very special young woman, Alexis Kaiser," Whitlock recalled. "I befriended Lexi and her family and I just wanted to find a way that my program could help Lexi and kids like her and bring attention to the fact that we have hundreds of kids in the Metro-Atlanta area that suffer from terrible things like cerebral palsy. In our own little way, in our own little corner of the world we wanted to try to do something good for these young people."
That something has become an annual event for the team. This season there is an added twist to the game, as Georgia Tech will be involved. The fit was a natural, as Lexi's grandfather is Georgia Tech alumnus and basketball legend Roger Kaiser, Georgia Tech's first All-America basketball player.
Lexi Night is bringing the Tech and Kennesaw families together.
"It's pretty awesome to be able to tell the history to our players about it, to have that connection and to have a great student-athlete come out of Georgia Tech and that be his granddaughter, is a great connection," said Georgia Tech Softball Head Coach Sharon Perkins.
Getting Georgia Tech involved also should be good for the turnout.
"Scott realized we had such a big draw when our teams played because we both have so many local kids on our teams that grew up playing each other and the parents on both sides know the players on both sides," said Perkins. "So it's a really fun game every time that we get the opportunity to play. So its fun on his part and it's exciting for us to be able to take part in this event, also."
"We're excited about that. We think it's great," said Whitlock. "I'm really grateful to the people at Tech and the Kennesaw family as well. We're not a big corporation. We're not a big operation but we're trying our best to touch the lives of two or three or four or five kids that every day's a fight and they do it so bravely and with such big hearts, I'm grateful for everything that helps us try to do something nice for these folks."
Both coaches agree that on a night like this everyone wins.
For the players, it's a lesson in perspective.
"When you see a kid that would give anything to have the opportunity to do what they get to do every single day I think it really hits home with them," said Perkins. "When you get to see and meet this girl and see how awesome she is and the fight that she has to fight every day, it kind of brings reality in check of what they go through every day. When they think they have a tough day they don't really understand a tough day until they go through it from the perspective of this girl."
"They totally embrace it. They love it. It's moving to them," added Whitlock. "They see how truly blessed they are. When they see these great kids come out, and be with us, I think it means a great deal to them."
A bigger deal is the presume festivities, where the Alexis Kaiser Foundation will give away special bicycles to a couple of kids in need. The idea of the bicycles, like the game itself, started small and blossomed.
"Two years ago, it came to my attention that Lexi was very upset that she could not go out and ride a bicycle like her brother and sister," Whitlock remembered. "Through some research by her mom and dad they found out that they make this special tricycle for kids with her condition but they're very expensive. We decided that year that what we would do was we were going to buy Lexi a tricycle because we wanted her to be able to go out and ride like her brother and sister and ride a bike and do things that other kids could do. Now every year on Lexi Day, Lexi gives a bicycle to another child that has that disease."
Providing the bicycles continues a tradition of giving back by the Alexis Kaiser Foundation, which, last Christmas provided iPads to kids.
"We're just trying to do some things that enlighten people, to bring attention to these types of situations and make some kids feel better," said Whitlock.
KSU's head coach expects the usual big turnout
"It's our fourth year and the turnout has been growing every year," he said. "The participation has been growing every year. It's just a great, great atmosphere that I feel very lucky to be a part of."
Even Lexi is starting to appreciate the night.
"I was with her yesterday and I was asking her if she was ready for Lexi Day," Whitlock said. "She said,'Yeah." And I asked her, 'You know what we're doing, don't you?' and she said, 'Yeah. We're giving away a bicycle.' So, she's starting to comprehend it."
For more information on Lexi Kaiser and the Alexis /kaiser Foundation visit Lexi's Game at www.lexisgame.com.