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Division II honors ninth year of sponsorship with Make-A-Wish

By Courtney Cronin

Two institutions held true to Division II’s “Life in the Balance” sentiment during a rivalry weekend in which the focus shifted from football to unifying in support of a cause that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

The University of Central Missouri teamed with Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association rival Northwest Missouri State on Saturday to honor Charly Erpelding, an 8-year-old with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

In early August, Charly was told by Make-A-Wish that she will be granted her wish to go on a cruise. Make-A-Wish has been Division II’s national charity since 2003. Charly underwent surgery as part of her cancer treatment Aug. 29.

Charly’s tale is a Division II family story. Her father, Andy Erpelding, is a former offensive tackle and two-time national champion at Northwest Missouri State. Her father’s teammate, Adam Dorrel, is the head coach at Northwest and remains in contact with the Erpelding family. Charly’s godfather is Central Missouri head coach Jim Svoboda, who coached Andy as a Bearcat.

Northwest opened its season against East Central and accepted $2 donations for “Bearcats and Mules” bracelets. Central did the same thing during its game against Northwest and both schools donated a combined $2,886.25 to Make-A-Wish in Charly's name to help other children fighting life-threatening illnesses.

The rivalry weekend also served as a platform for the entire division to recognize the ninth year of its sponsorship with Make-A-Wish with a check for $468,569.35 presented to the organization at kickoff.

Standing at the 50-yard line were both head coaches, Central Missouri President Charles Ambrose, Northwest Missouri State President John Jasinski, Central Missouri Athletics Director Jerry Hughes, Northwest Missouri State Athletics Director Wren Baker, Make-A-Wish Missouri representative Emily Ross, NCAA Associate Director of Enforcement Mark Strothkamp − and both mascots.

“When the sponsorship started in 2003, Division II raised about $78,000 for Make-A-Wish and now we’re at almost half of a million dollars,” said Hilary Cox, the Division II national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee chair. “It’s rewarding to see how far we’ve come as a joint effort and to see the money in action.”

Since the beginning of the sponsorship, Division II has raised more than $2.4 million for Make-A-Wish. North Georgia College & State University, where Cox is a softball student-athlete, led the way for the 2011-12 school year, raising $12,000. Other top performers were Grand Canyon University ($11,272.95), Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania ($10,593.15), Grand Valley State University ($10,001) and Saint Leo University ($10,000).

The Division II Management Council and Presidents Council also donated $10,000. The money donated on behalf of Division II goes directly to Make-A-Wish America and its 62 chapters across the nation in an effort to continue to grant wishes.

“It’s awesome to know we’re helping so many families,” Cox said. “The Make-A-Wish website lists all of their supporters starting with big companies like Macy’s and Disney, all the way down to us. When you see NCAA DII, it’s an amazing feeling. We are a grassroots effort and making a big impact.”

Make-A-Wish and Division II will celebrate their annual Week of Wishes from Oct. 5-15. The SAAC organized the week last year to help to promote the partnership within the membership and to promote what Make-A-Wish does to support children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“We wanted to pick one week where everyone could come together and work to raise money for Make-A-Wish,” said Chowan’s Allie Kolezynski, the SAAC vice chair. “We encourage institutions to participate because of our strong sponsorship with the organization and pass the word along any way we can.”

In the 2011-12 academic year, 204 out of 309 Division II institutions (including provisional members) raised and submitted funds. All 23 conferences participated. The Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, Heartland Conference and South Atlantic Conference featured 100 percent member participation.

“There’s an entire world out there that’s bigger than college athletics, and events like the ones put on at Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri State prove that,” Kolezynski said. “I often think ‘that could have been me,’ and if I was in that situation, I would want someone to help me out the way Make-A-Wish does.

“As a member of SAAC we have the opportunity to get other student-athletes on board with what we’re doing. All of us together can be significant contributors to the organization.”