In Memory of Eva Margaret Damiens
TOKC extends its deepest thanks to the Damiens and Hennessey families. Although dealing with the loss of Eva Margaret Damiens, otherwise affectionately known as “Mema”, a mother, sister, grandmother, they still exemplify their Mema’s spirit of joy, service and giving, and take time to remember kids with cancer during their grief. Your donations will bring hope to kids with cancer through funding vital research. All research donations are matched dollar for dollar. Here, Eva Margaret “Mema” Damien’s legacy and life will always be remembered.
5th Annual James A. Ragan Memorial
Tan, Winans and Petruzzelli Win at James A. Ragan Memorial
CORPUS CHRISTI – Andrew Tan of Austin shoots 3-under 68 in the final round to win the Boys 15-18 Division of the James A. Ragan Memorial at Corpus Christi Country Club. Richardson’s Meagan Winans wins the Girls 12-18 Division, while Dallas’ Andrew Petruzzelli wins the Boys 14 & Under Division.
Boys 15-18 Division
1. Andrew Tan 136
T2. Cole Sherwood 141
T2. Jackson Drake 141
T4. Shaheen Momin 142
T4. Alejandro Gonzalez 142
Girls 12-18 Division
1. Meagan Winans 140
2. Gabbi Bentancourt 142
3. Caroline Kent 147
4. Denise Pan 148
5. Sky Sudberry 150
Boys 14 & Under Division
1. Andrew Petruzzelli 142
2. Grant Yerger 145
T3. Jonathan Kim 147
T3. Kevin Mu 147
5. Daniel Macias 149
Leaders: Tan posted consecutive rounds of 3-under 68 to get to 6-under overall and five strokes ahead of the field in the Boys 15-18 Division. The win was Tan’s first with the Legends Junior Tour as he racked up 10 birdies and an eagle in 36 holes. The eagle came on the par-5 fifth. Winans posted the low round of the day with a 4-under 67 and won the Girls 12-18 Division by two strokes. She joins her sister, Libby, as a past champion of this event after going bogey free and making four birdies in the final round. Petruzzelli picks up his second win of the second with a score of even-par 142 in the Boys 14 & Under Division.
Top Finishers: Austin’s Cole Sherwood and Lubbock’s Jackson Drake finished tied for second in the Boys 15-18 Division at 1-under 141. Shaheen Momin of Sugar Land and Alejandro Gonzalez of Mexico tied for fourth in the division at even-par 142, while Jacob King of Boerne and Peyton Johnson of Shreveport tied for sixth. Frisco’s Gabbi Bentancourt finished second in the Girls 12-18 Division behind Winans, while Caroline Kent, who won the LJT Fall Challenge last month, finished third. Houston’s Denise Pan finished fourth and Sky Sudberry of The Woodlands finished fifth in the Girls 12-18 Division. Driftwood’s Grant Yerger finished runner-up in the Boys 14 & Under Division, while Round Rock’s Jonathan Kim and Austin’s Kevin Mu tied for third.
Course: The course features an open layout that works its way through a residential area and maneuver its way across hills and bodies of water. Tall palm trees surround the property and the wind plays a huge factor into each shot for the player. The course is being played as a par-71 for the event and around 6,500 yards in the Boys 15-18 Division, 6,100 yards in the Boys 14 & Under Division and almost 5,800 yards in the Girls 12-18 Division.
Weather: The weather was perfect again on Monday with temperatures creeping up to 90 degrees and winds ranging from 10-15 miles per hour.
About James: James Ragan started playing on the LJT in 2008 and recorded three top-25 finishes. The Corpus Christi native won the 2010 Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic and earned a spot in the Jackie Burke Cup Matches. He would go on to win the LJT’s first Sportsmanship Award and the next year the award was named after him. Ragan was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in 2006, which is a rare type of pediatric cancer. He founds “Triumph Over Kid Cancer” which is an organization that has raised more than $3 million dollars for pediatric cancer research. James passed away in 2014 but TOKC has kept going with the help of the Ragan family.
About TOKC: Founded by James Ragan in 2007, Triumph Over Kid Cancer is dedicated to improving the lives of children with cancer by raising their spirits, raising the public’s awareness and funding research to improve the treatment and survivability of pediatric cancers.
Why Winning This Cancer Lottery Sucks!
Editor’s Note: Nia Meadows currently attends Harvard and was an assistant producer on the film “Until 20.” Her mother, Geraldine Moriba, is an executive producer of program development and vice president of diversity and inclusion for CNN Worldwide. She is also a filmmaker and co-director of this documentary. Follow her on Twitter @GeraldineMoriba. “Until 20” premieres at the Austin Film Festival in Texas on Friday, October 30. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
- Nia Meadows: When I was 4, my mother had a malignant sarcoma tumor
- My mom got lucky and her cancer went away, but others, like young James Ragan, are not
- “Until 20” is a documentary that looks at how James’ determination inspires us to live more fully
(CNN)The day before my fourth birthday, my mom moved away from our family. We celebrated her last day in New York at a pottery class painting piggy banks with my friends. I was too young to understand that she was leaving us. This party was her goodbye. I also didn’t understand that it might be the last birthday I would ever share with her.
My mother had a malignant sarcoma tumor growing along the radial nerve in her right arm. She was told she had maybe six months to live. She was moving to Houston to receive treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Our visits to Houston were super fun — we did things like visiting the zoo and museums. But what I remember best is wearing gloves to “help” my mom clean the chemotherapy port in her chest. Or the time she let my older brother and I cut off all her hair. I laughed, thinking her bald head looked like my uncle’s. Didn’t every kid do this? It all seemed perfectly normal to me.
I didn’t know her hair was falling out because of chemotherapy. Sometimes when she went to get treatment, we waited in the kids’ playroom at the hospital. I thought that was fun, too. I thought all kids used words like chemotherapy and radiation.
The day before Geraldine Moriba moved to Houston for cancer treatment, she took her kids wig shopping to get them used to the idea that she would lose her hair. Warner Meadows (age 7), Geraldine Moriba and Nia Meadows (age 3) are all wearing wigs.
My mom says that her oncologist told her that she hit the lottery when she was diagnosed with cancer and that she might hit it again if she was cured. My mom was lucky. She hit the jackpot twice. After living away for eight months, she came home. I truly didn’t understand how close I came to losing my mom.
Her recurring checkups over the years that followed seemed routine. It was only when she started making a documentary called “Until 20” about a teenager with a rare cancer that everything became clear.
That person was James Ragan. At 13, he was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma tumor in a bone in his right leg. James and my mom both had aggressive tumors that fall under the classification of sarcoma or connective tissue cancers. They both underwent many of the same treatments at the same hospital. They even had some of the same doctors.
Yet at the end of the day, they had different results. Unfortunately, James’s tumor metastasized from his leg to his lungs. Their doctors still can’t explain why my mom’s tumor responded to treatment and his didn’t. There are no answers.
Watching my mother make this film has been an awakening experience for me.
There is too little research on rare cancers and even less research on childhood cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-14, exceeded only by accidents. Today, there are targeted cancer therapies that successfully cure certain cancers. However, kids with cancer are not the first patients to get these drugs; they are the last.
James never let his disease quench his determination to excel at everything he wanted to achieve — golf, education, relationships and his advocacy work. He supported Sunshine Kids, where he served on the board, and then became a special ambassador with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, helping to lobby Congress for funding for pediatric cancer research. Still wanting to do more, he launched the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation. All of this while he was still a teenager.
As my mom made this film, I could see the impact it had on her life. It gave her purpose. What I didn’t realize was that it would change my life, too. James’ unrelenting determination inspires me to take the most out of every day, because tomorrow is never certain. Even when his days were limited, he never lost his drive and determination to be the best version of himself.
How would you live if you knew you only had a year to live? It only takes one person to inspire you to be a better person. Maybe it’ll be James Ragan for you. For me, it’s my mom.
Meadows, Nia. “Why Winning This Cancer Lottery Sucks (Opinion).” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 Nov. 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/10/30/opinions/meadows-cancer-lottery/index.html.
Reasons You Cannot Miss TOKCs Toga Party
What could be better than having a blast and supporting kids with cancer at the same time? On May 10th and 11th, join hundreds of your neighbors at the Triumph Over Kid Cancer golf tournament and Toga Party.
The golfing event, the 12th Annual James A. Ragan Triumph Scramble, will be held at the Corpus Christi Country Club with a shotgun start at 1:00 pm. Tickets are $250 per person.
The 13th annual Toga Party the following night from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.at 4126 Ocean Drive features a live band, a night of dancing, scrumptious finger food from Venetian Hot Plate, silent and live auctions and seeing prominent people in your community in togas & cowboy boots! Tickets are $150 per person. Proceeds from both events fund research into pediatric cancer and support kids with cancer.
Why should you consider attending?
1.) Toga! Toga! Toga!
Old people in togas. Little kids in togas. Groups of people in matching themed togas. One year the mayor showed up in a toga. It’s hard not to have fun dancing in a toga. This year, don’t forget your cowboy boots!
2.) Carrying on James’s Legacy
The toga party got its start back when James was declared cancer-free and his parents wanted to throw him a birthday party. Uncomfortable being the center of attention, James suggested a toga party in the family’s backyard, assuming, mistakenly, that his parents would never consent. The Ragans asked each guest to donate $50 to pediatric cancer research, and they raised an astonishing $40,000 that first year.
The golf tournament kicked off the following year because James loved golf and played it until his dying days.
“Buy a ticket because not only are you supporting children in your own community who have cancer, you’re also supporting incredibly innovative research into new cures for pediatric cancer, and that money gets matched,” says Mecklin Ragan, James’s sister co-founder of Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
3.) Whataburger Breakfast Burritos and Gates Donuts
Those who remain at the toga party as Saturday night seeps into Sunday morning are rewarded with Whataburger breakfast burritos and Gates donuts. No one leaves at 11:30!
4.) Leveraging Dollars for Cancer Research
Because sponsors pick up the costs of the events, every dollar of your admission price and auction bid goes to supporting kids with cancer and investing in pediatric cancer research. What’s more, most of the money raised at the two events is matched. For every dollar you spend, more than a dollar goes to the cause.
5.) Awesome Swag!
The swag bag at the golf tournament is nearly worth the price of admission itself. It contains a golf shirt (your choice of men’s or women’s), customized golf balls with the TOKC and Whataburger logos, a golf towel, pullover, hat and visor, divot repair kit and other sundries like sunscreen, pens and lip balm. The gym bag it comes in gets used year-round. “We’re told they’re great bags,” says Mecklin.
There’s food and adult beverages on the course as well. Oh, and golf with your friends!
6.) People Come From Across the Country for This Weekend
James’s friends return to Corpus Christi from as far as California to participate in the weekend’s activities, but they’re not the only ones. A man from Florida who had never met the Ragan family read about the event and tries to make it every year.
7.) The Funds Raised are So Badly Needed
Only four percent of government funding for cancer research is aimed at pediatric cancers, which are different than adult cancers. The result is that many of the therapies used on children today haven’t advanced since the 1970s. With 175,000 children diagnosed every year, efforts like TOKC’s to raise funding for kid cancer research are critical. It’s why your support is so very appreciated.
“It’s humbling to see the reach James and his story can have,” says Mecklin. “It gives me hope that the work he started is doing some good.”
You can help Triumph Over Kid Cancer win the war against childhood cancers and save the lives of children today and tomorrow. Visit TriumphOverKidCancer.org for more information, to sign up for the events or to make a donation.
The 5 Contributions of DoThatOneThing!
Pediatric cancer patients and their families face a procession of difficult challenges, even beyond the disease itself. Families are often split, with one parent at home and the other traveling to treatment with the affected child. The treatments are often painful, frightening and ultimately unsuccessful. The financial toll can be crushing, and siblings can feel lost as attention is focused on the child with cancer. Even aside from the constant specter of death, it is a life you wouldn’t wish on anyone else.
What can we do to help these families, or to help anyone less fortunate than we are? We can pick something, whatever we choose to do, and Do That One Thing. That’s what James Ragan told us before he died of cancer, during his salutatory address at his high school graduation – “I can promise you, you will be stronger, more energetic, more positive and happier throughout your life if you do that one thing.”
Today, James’s words have been transformed into action. The DoThatOneThing Councils of Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation (TOKC), the organization he and his sister, Mecklin, formed to improve and lengthen the lives of children with cancer and their families, work with high school and college students to spread awareness for pediatric cancer and bring joy into the lives of pediatric cancer patients and their families.
Here are 5 ways DoThatOneThing! Council is helping achieve that mission:
1.) Establishing Chapters In Our Communities
The DoThatOneThing! Council has recruited principals, teachers, and students across our communities to establish chapters in their schools to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and to bring joy to the daily lives of children with cancer. Now in high schools, middle schools, and one college with plans to expand to others, DoThatOneThing! is taking off.
2) Bringing Joy to Pediatric Cancer Families
DoThatOneThing! Councils, run by student volunteers and their faculty advisors, have organized a number of events to spread cheer to affected families. These events occur monthly at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, MD Anderson, Texas Children’s Hospital, and the Ronald McDonald House, and include decorating patients’ hospital rooms for holidays, delivering goodie baskets, creating arts and crafts, donating books and reading to children with cancer. The DoThatOneThing! Council members even organize a Thanksgiving dinner at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Educating the Next Generation DoThatOneThing! Councils take the time to learn about childhood cancer and the struggles faced by children and their families. For example, parents of children with cancer speak to students about first hearing the words, “your child has cancer,” and how they deal with the journey ahead. Spreading Awareness of Childhood Cancer As students learn more about pediatric cancer and understand its impact on children and their families, they share what they have learned with their peers and classmates, further spreading awareness for pediatric cancer. Chapters have done this in a variety of ways, such as distributing buttons with facts about pediatric cancer on them, or designing and distributing t-shirts with creative logos. “Students taking an interest and coming up with their own ideas – that’s what is helping TOKC to grow and educate a new generation. Increased awareness can lead to early diagnoses, which are a key to increasing survival rates,” says Gloria Ragan, mother of James Ragan and one of the driving forces behind Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
3.) Developing Organizational Skills for the Ongoing Effort
Through their participation in the DoThatOneThing! Council, high school students also learn about non-profit work, how to organize and run group meetings, how to actively listen, and speak publicly. By learning these skills, today’s students are becoming better equipped to make an even bigger impact in the future on their communities and in the fight against pediatric cancer. You can help Triumph Over Kid Cancer win the war against childhood cancers and save the lives of millions of children alive today and those yet to be born.
Visit TriumphOverKidCancer.org for more information or to make a donation.
5 Realities of Childhood Cancer We Often
Cancer is not just a health diagnoses; it’s a life diagnosis, and not only for the child who receives it, but for the whole family. We think of children dying of cancer, and that makes sense: it’s the second leading cause of death in children after accidents. But children live with cancer first — a life of challenges, of physical and emotional pain, and of an immense family upheaval as the stricken child’s life becomes the focus of family life.
Triumph Over Kid Cancer (TOKC), an organization that raises money to investigate new therapies for childhood cancer based here in Corpus Christi, asks us all to consider some realities of childhood cancer when we think about the 10,000 children under the age of 15 who are diagnosed each year.
“We spend so much time celebrating the triumphs we sometimes forget that kids have to fight against cancer day in and day out,” says Gloria Ragan, whose son James founded TOKC and inspired its supporters before his own death in 2014.
- The Daily Physical Pain
Children with cancer face a gauntlet of physical pain involving injections, radiation and chemotherapy — another way of saying burning and poisoning — the pressure of tumors on nerves and the cancer itself. They have to deal with these issues on top of the usual challenges of growing up whether they are young children attempting to learn about the world or teenagers navigating the minefield of puberty and young adulthood.
- The Emotional Pain and Social Ostracism
Children with cancer live with the daily prospect of a flare-up, a setback, another hospitalization and even death. One in five children diagnosed with cancer will die of it. It’s a lot for anyone to cope with, much less a child of any age. As the progress of the cancer ebbs and flows, children with cancer are usually sidelined from some activities that their friends enjoy — particularly sports. They may also miss large chunks of school time that sets them apart from their peers and even when they return, they must attempt to catch up weeks or months of work. Nothing is worse for children, especially in middle and high school, than to be different in a way that everyone can see.
- The Unfortunate Choices
Children with cancer have to choose between things no child should have to do. Should they go to school the day they have chemotherapy? Should they complete their homework when they are vomiting and suffering headaches? Should they go out with their friends even if there won’t be a bathroom nearby? Should they attempt to date? They make the ordinary emotional trauma of adolescence seem trivial.
- The Financial Strain
Families that care for children with cancer incur incredible costs during the diagnostic, treatment and follow-up. Besides the health care costs themselves, which insurance almost never covers entirely, parents often must travel with children to treatment, take time off from work and even give up employment. As many as 30% of children with cancer live over 60 miles from the nearest oncologist. The financial burden exacerbates the physical and emotional issues challenging the family.
- The Emotional Turbulence
Everyone in the childhood cancer community knows of parents who cracked under the emotional pain of a child with cancer, of parents who struggled with alcoholism, psychological issues and divorce from the strain. It even affects siblings because parental attention can become diverted to the sick child.
You can help Triumph Over Kid Cancer win the war against childhood cancers and save the lives of millions of children alive today and those yet to be born. Visit TriumphOverKidCancer.org for more information or to make a donation.
Co-Founder of Triumph Over Kid Cancer
We’d love to learn more about you? What do you do? What are some of your passions/interests?
I’m currently in my 4th year of medical school at UT Health San Antonio, applying to residency in General Surgery. [Mecklin is currently in her 1st year of General Surgery Residency at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, VA] I hope to have the opportunity to go into surgical oncology, but for now I’m taking things one day at a time. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, playing with our family dogs, running, watching classic movies, reading, and playing the piano. And, as one might expect, I’m very passionate about helping kids with cancer and their families, and pediatric cancer related issues.
Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration in life?
The biggest source of inspiration in my life has been, and continues to be, my brother, James. I can remember times when James was absolutely miserable – he was sick and sad and had no idea what the future held. In spite of all of the challenges James faced, he got up, he smiled, said something funny or nice and began to do something positive with his day. Some days he did school work, and when he graduated he was the salutatorian. Some days he worked to become a better golfer so that when he got to college, he could play Division I golf for the Rice Owls. But most days he worked at cancer. And James’ unrelenting ability to think of other kids like him and families like ours and new ways he could do his one thing to help them is what continues to inspire not just me, but my fellow TOKC Board Members and our supporters as well.
And while James has been the biggest source of inspiration in my life, I can’t talk about what or who inspires me without including my parents, Gloria and Jim. It has been said that the greatest loss one can experience is that of a parent losing a child, and even though as individuals, as parents, and as husband and wife they have been through some extraordinarily difficult times, they continue to be an amazing team and to love and support one another. They help to pick each other up, and me, when any of us falls. They continue to encourage me to work hard to be the best physician and person I can be and to pursue my dreams, wherever that may take me. And even though they lost their son, they continue to do their one thing each day to honor James’ memory and to help kids with cancer and their families navigate the complex and overwhelming roller-coaster that is cancer. They are the living example of the kind of person I want to be.
We know that the Triumph over Kid Cancer Foundation is close to your heart. Please tell us a little about the organization. (How did it begin? How does it help kids with cancer/cancer research?)
Although TOKC was officially founded in 2010, the idea originated in 2007 just a year after James was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. He had completed several rounds of chemotherapy, had undergone a total knee replacement, and was about to turn 14. To celebrate we hosted a Toga Party for his 14th birthday and, in lieu of gifts, guests were asked to make donations which would be split between MD Anderson and Driscoll Children’s Hospital (our local children’s hospital in Corpus Christi). That year, we raised $40,000! At that point in time, everyone thought James was cured. Unfortunately, a few months after that first Toga Party, we learned that the cancer had metastasized to his lungs. In researching his disease, we learned that there was no cure for it, and there was no real effort to find a cure. By the time James’ birthday rolled around the following year, he had become quite the golfer, so we decided to have the Toga party once again, but this time also added a golf tournament to round out the weekend’s festivities. all of the money raised went directly to cancer research.
In the years that followed, we held annual fundraisers to raise money for cancer research, but we quickly realized that if we could find a way to formalize our efforts, we would have a greater impact with the funds we were raising. So, in 2010, we organized a non-profit called Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation (TOKC) and began funding the Children’s Sarcoma initiative at M.D. Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. TOKC committed to raise 1.5 million dollars, to be matched by M.D. Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, and the money would create a fund, which would award grants to support new research into pediatric bone cancer. We met that goal at the end of 2013, about 1 month before James’ death.
TOKC has continued to raise funds that go directly towards projects dedicated to finding cures for pediatric cancer.
In 2017, we completed our $1.5 million dollar pledge towards Pediatric Genome Research, with those funds also being matched by M.D. Anderson.
In 2018, we embarked on two new projects. The first is a Phase II drug trial at MD Anderson, focused on a drug that holds great promise to treat patients with osteosarcoma with lung metastasis – the very disease that took James’ life.
The second is a promising childhood cancer cell immunotherapy research project at Texas Children’s Hospital involving modifying children’s T cells to help their own systems do a better job of fighting their cancer.
James’ vision was a world without children’s cancer, and I and the rest of the TOKC board members, remain determined to make that vision a reality. But James also recognized that while supporting research gives kids with cancer and their families hope for a better future, there is another big piece in this puzzle – finding ways to bring some joy to the daily lives of kids with cancer. And TOKC does this with the help of our countless volunteers and the members of our #DoThatOneThing Councils, a high school program that encourages teens to become more involved in their communities and teaches them about non-profit work. Now in 10 high schools in the Coastal Bend, hundreds of high schools students from all over promote pediatric cancer awareness and help organize activities to brighten the lives of kids with cancer and their families.
What words of encouragement or advice would you give to other women dreaming of entering the medical field or pursuing their passions?
There’s a quote from James in the documentary “Until 20” that was made about the last year of his life and pediatric cancer where he relates his life to the game of golf that I just love.
“It hasn’t always been fairways and greens. It’s been a little bit of army golf, as we call it, which is left, right, left, right – balls going everywhere and lots of trouble – but that doesn’t mean that you give up or you try to play the game any differently. You just try figure the best way to deal with it and you go forward and you swing hard to try to get it out of the trees. You have to keep moving forward and focusing on the next shot in front of you.”
Life, whether you’re entering the medical field or pursuing any other passion you have, is full of ups and downs for everyone, not including the extra obstacles we face as women pursuing those goals. But, like James said, just because you get knocked down or hit a rough patch doesn’t mean you play the game any differently. You have to get back up, figure out the best way to deal with the adversity you are facing, and move forward because while the challenges we face in our lives may shape the people we become, they do not define us. What defines each of us is how we respond to those challenges, and I believe that if you are able to stay grounded, humble, and hungry, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
“2019 Spotlights | Women Empowerment | Inspiring Women Today.” InspiringWomen.Today, 20 Feb. 2019, www.inspiringwomen.today/copy-of-new-spotlights.
Saints Punter Tackles Charity
Being a punter can be a lonely endeavor.
Despite having 10 additional teammates on the field snapping, blocking, and covering the opposition’s returner, the punter is the focal point of the play. Located several yards behind the long snapper, alone on a football island, the punter analyzes the elements and the coverage team, deciding where to strategically place the punt to maximize his team’s success and avoid disaster.
Punting is a craft that lends itself to an introvert and requires the dedication to spend hours punting footballs, perfecting the spiral and placement of the ball, often alone.
That’s what initially drew New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead to begin pursuing punting as a teenager. Punting a soccer ball was ingrained in Morstead at a young age, from his days of playing goalie, and when he excelled in a Punt, Pass, and Kick competition in middle school, he discovered his knack for punting a football.
“Some people love hitting balls on the golf range, and I remember what it felt like to kick a punt that spiraled and how good of a feeling it was,” Morstead says. “I always was the type of kid who didn’t need someone to play with. I could go shoot free throws for hours. I could go punt footballs for hours by myself, and naturally, being an introvert, it suited me.”
All those hours paid off, as Morstead, in his 10th year with the Saints, has become an integral player in the franchise and a beloved member of the New Orleans community. The former Pro Bowler etched himself into Saints and NFL lore with his famous onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
Saints coach Sean Payton alerted Morstead at the beginning of halftime that the team would be running the surprise play, dubbed “Ambush,” giving the rookie a half hour to dwell on the impending gutsy call. “My blood pressure and heart rate spiked when he told me,” Morstead recalls. “We worked on it, but I’m not sure I ever thought we’d actually do it as a surprise in a game.”
In one of the most pressure-packed situations in all of sports, Morstead lined up to begin the second half and delivered. The kick caught the Indianapolis Colts off-guard, allowing the Saints to recover and take their first lead of the game on the ensuing drive. “I’m certainly glad we did it,” Morstead says. “It helped us win a Super Bowl. I don’t really remember the kick itself—I’ve seen it on TV about a hundred times, but I honestly kind of blacked out when it happened.”
Winning the Super Bowl is the perfect way to end any NFL season, let alone one’s rookie campaign. Morstead is one of the few remaining players from the franchise’s lone Super Bowl victory, and he has weathered the peaks and valleys of the subsequent seasons, which makes the current winning resurgence over the past two seasons even sweeter.
The winning is a product of one of the core values of the Saints: getting the right people in the building. It’s been a process, Morstead says, but during three straight 7-9 seasons, the Saints stuck to their values and principles while building a new team foundation, trusting a process that has ultimately proved successful.
After experiencing so much team success early in his career, Morstead is excited that the winning culture has come full-circle. Even though many fans and pundits are quick to compare this year’s squad to past successful Saints teams, Morstead points out that every single team has been uniquely different from the others. “There is definitely a special energy and an ‘it’ factor that I feel like this team has,” Morstead says. “Honestly, we had it last year as well, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
This season, the Saints offense has been roaring, scoring at a higher clip than nearly every team in the league. More offensive touchdowns equate to less punting for Morstead, who averaged over 58 punts per season his first nine years. Through 12 games this season, the Saints have punted only 28 times, the fewest in the NFL. With a lack of punting game-to-game, Morstead says he actually stays more engaged than usual.
“It’s counterintuitive—the more I punt, the less I do,” Morstead explains. “Part of that is, when you go into the game, the adrenaline you experience for one play can sit in your system for a while. So, I don’t have to do too much activity on the sidelines when I’m punting more.” Morstead needed all the adrenaline he could muster last year against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
On his first punt of the game, Morstead made a touchdown-saving tackle on Vikings return man Marcus Sherels, suffering a painful rib injury in the process. Battling through the pain, Morstead stayed in the game, launching three more successful punts. “Most guys have an opportunity to gut it out for their teammates throughout the season, and that was a rare opportunity for me to gut it out for my teammates,” Morstead says. “It was an honor to do it.”
Vikings fans responded to Morstead’s gritty performance by donating over $220,000 to his charitable foundation, What You Give Will Grow. Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Vikings fans, Morstead turned right around and donated all the proceeds to Children’s Hospitals Minnesota for its Child Life program. That donation last winter was a highlight in a long line of philanthropic endeavors by Morstead’s foundation, which emphasizes helping children battling cancer.
Inspired by his friend James Ragan, who battled osteosarcoma, Morstead and his wife Lauren started WYGWG in 2014 to help the New Orleans community and encourage the giving spirit.
“James’s fight, his attitude, and his mentality in dealing with it and helping others who were going through the same thing were really inspiring, and it’s a way to keep his legacy and memory alive through the foundation,” Morstead says.
The name of the organization comes from a quote by Frank Gansz, Morstead’s mentor and special teams coach at Southern Methodist: “What you give will grow. What you keep, you lose.” Gansz passed away in 2009, the day after Morstead was drafted by the Saints, but the impact Gansz had on Morstead’s life propelled him to found WYGWG to continue to give back and help others. Since its inception, WYGWG has raised over $3.5 million for charitable causes with the help of an army of dedicated volunteers.
“I can’t believe we are at where we’re at,” Morstead says. “It’s been really fun to have the ability to be impactful in our community, which supports the team so much. I love being able to give back and positively impact the lives of the fans who cheer for us every week.”
Morstead encourages anyone interested in donating money or time to visit WYGWG.org to get plugged in and contribute to the positive impact the foundation is having on the community.
“Everybody that is involved feels they’re making an impact, and their small piece really does matter,” Morstead says. “It’s a really cool community of volunteers and support that we have, and it’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can continue to do more and more in the future.”
Photos by Romney Caruso
Alexander, Andrew. “Where Y’at.” Festival Food & Beverages Offered at French Quarter Fest | Where Y’at, 21 Dec. 2018, www.whereyat.com/punting-for-change-saints-punter-morstead-tackles-charity-and-sometimes-return-men.
4 Ways Gloria Hicks Has Sparked Funding
You may know Triumph Over Kid Cancer (TOKC) as the Corpus Christi-based non-profit inspired by the life of James Ragan that has raised over $3 million for pediatric cancer research.
Diagnosed with cancer at 13, James celebrated his 14th birthday with a Toga party at which guests were invited to donate money instead of buying presents. He raised 40,000 dollars that day, which began his efforts to fund innovative new treatments for childhood cancers, which hardly receive any government or pharmaceutical industry funding at all. That began the work of Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
Sadly, we lost James in 2014 at age 20, but other passionate supporters of the cause have carried on his work. One of organization’s leading benefactors has been Gloria Hicks, owner with her husband of Ed Hicks Family of Dealerships, Corpus Christi’s home for Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Infiniti.
Gloria Hicks got to know James even before his diagnosis in 2006 when her son Charlie became his golfing buddy. Since TOKC began, Gloria has given her heart, her time and her treasure to support its critical work.
Here are just a few of Gloria Hicks’ contributions.
- The Mercedes Benz Golf Tournament
A major fundraiser annually for Triumph Over Kid Cancer, the golf tournament is also a place at which TOKC is given the opportunity to reach out to those who might not know about its efforts in the field of pediatric cancer research. Gloria Hicks has designated Triumph Over Kid Cancer the official beneficiary of the event every year.
- New Dealerships, New Platform
The Ed Hicks Family of Dealerships has invited TOKC volunteers to the opening of every new dealership, allowing them to expand awareness and support for James’s vision. When a prominent family business gets behind a cause the way Gloria Hicks and her family does, it attracts many of the community’s leading citizens.
- Engaging Her Connections
Gloria Hicks served as an irreplaceable volunteer at fundraiser auctions. She leveraged her deep connections in the community to convince area businesses and individuals to donate incredible auction items. Much of the success of those auctions, which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research, is attributable to Gloria’s tireless work, dedication and talent for motivating people.
- Offering a Mercedes-Benz
In order to drive participation in our annual James A. Ragan Triumph Scramble golf tournament, Gloria Hicks’s company donates a hole-in-one prize package, including a Mercedes-Benz automobile, for any golfer who makes a hole-in-one during the tournament. This generous contribution is responsible for recruiting players in the sold-out event. In addition, Gloria’s personal support has inspired others to support the tournament.
“To say Mrs. Hicks is a generous and selfless woman doesn’t do her justice. She is a true champion for children with cancer,” says Mecklin Ragan, co-founder of TOKC and the sister of James Ragan. “Her efforts to help TOKC achieve our goal of bringing about an end to a world where children have to face the horrors of pediatric cancer is immeasurable.”
Thanks to the generous commitment of people like Gloria Hicks, Triumph Over Kid Cancer was able to launch The Children’s Sarcoma Initiative with M.D. Anderson in 2010 to fund novel cancer treatment ideas, and The Genomic Research and Sequencing Project for Pediatrics with M.D.Anderson in 2014. Currently they are funding a phase II drug trial, and have also pledged to raise $1 million for the Childhood Cancer Cell Therapy project at Texas Children’s Hospital.
You can help Triumph Over Kid Cancer win the war against childhood cancers and save the lives of millions of children alive today and those yet to be born. Visit TriumphOverKidCancer.org for more information or to make a donation.
Join TOKC this #GivingTuesday
November is traditionally the month of giving thanks and giving back to those who make a difference. In recent years, organizations from all over the globe have taken part in #GivingTuesday, a global campaign where communities recognize their favorite organizations or nonprofits that improve the livelihood of others by donating to their missions.
This year, we celebrate on November 27, 2018.
While we appreciate your support year-round, #GivingTuesday is the one day in the year when organizations like TOKC are given recognition and the necessary funding to continue life-changing work.
We proudly take part in #GivingTuesday, and all donations to TOKC go to help raise funds to improve the treatment and survivability of pediatric cancers.
Would you like to give to TOKC for this year’s #GivingTuesday? There are a few ways you can show your support.
- Online donations are an easy and direct way to give straight to TOKC and our mission. When you donate, you are helping support research such as a Phase II trial at M.D. Anderson for lung metastasis and a Childhood Cancer Cell Therapy at Texas Children’s Hospital. Each of these projects has the potential to create major breakthroughs in the treatment and cure of multiple orphan pediatric cancers. The funds received by each institution are matched by that institution.
- Additionally, you can also give back while shopping for gifts from the TOKC store! We have a range of different products for sale and all proceeds go directly to TOKC. Shopping at TOKC is also a great way to start prepping for holiday gifts for the whole family — even pets!
Your donations and support are what keeps our mission going. Thank you for considering TOKC in this year’s #GivingTuesday!