“We are so grateful for this relationship with the Senior Bowl. It is so important that our pediatric patients have a sense of normalcy during their hospital stay, and our Senior Bowl visit provides this experience!”
By Michelle Ryan
When Mobile hosts its annual visitors for the Senior Bowl, so does USA Health Children’s and Women’s Hospital. Each year, members of the current class of elite draft prospects take a break from practices and Port City hospitality to make a difference in the lives of pediatric patients — if even for a few hours.
Some of the nation’s best senior football players gathered Friday morning at Hancock Whitney Stadium and connected to patients at Children’s and Women’s Hospital via iPads and Zoom. Players signed footballs that hospital staff delivered to the kids they met virtually.
“USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital looks forward to Senior Bowl each year. It provides such a wonderful experience for our pediatric patients and families,” said Deborah Browning, interim hospital administrator and chief nursing officer. “We are so grateful for this relationship with the Senior Bowl. It is so important that our pediatric patients have a sense of normalcy during their hospital stay, and our Senior Bowl visit provides this experience!”
Though the virtual hospital visits looked a little different, they remained just as positive and powerful as in years past, when players visited patients in person.
Some children interacted with the players from their hospital beds, while others connected from a classroom setting.
“Sometimes families are surprised by the offer to do something like meet football players while in the hospital, but it’s always well received and very memorable,” said Beth Abston, child life specialist with the hospital’s Mapp Child & Family Life Program, who helped organize the event. “They always seem to enjoy special visits while inpatient, even if it’s only virtual.”
The Mapp Child and Family Life Program supports families and children during their hospital stay to help normalize the child’s experience. The program includes access to child life specialists, recreational therapists and full-time certified teachers, and it provides fun activities such as the visits with Senior Bowl players, with the goal of minimizing stress for parents and children.
“Being in the hospital is stressful for the entire family, but visits like this provide a few moments of reprieve and put a smile on the kids’ faces,” Abston said. “But a smile on the child’s face usually results in a smile on the parents’ faces too.”
“Having the opportunity to connect inpatient families to special opportunities like this is one of best parts of our job,” Abston said. “We focus on normalizing the environment and making the stay less stressful for the family. Bringing a part of a fun community event to the hospital helps us do that.”
A few former patients met the players in person at the stadium as part of Special Spectators, a non-profit program that matches sick and injured children with VIP athletic experiences surrounding events such as the Senior Bowl.
The 74th annual Senior Bowl kicks off Saturday, Feb. 4, at 1:30 p.m. at the University of South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium. The longest continual-running all-star game is broadcast on the NFL Network. Tickets are still available here.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl is widely regarded as the preeminent college football all-star game and the first stage in the NFL Draft process. More than 900 NFL personnel, including key decision-makers from all 32 teams, and over 900 media members from around the country were credentialed last year. This past April, the game produced a record-tying 106 total picks for the second straight year, representing 40 percent of the entire NFL draft, including 45 of the top 100 players selected.