April 25, 2011
By Jack Smith
AUBURN, Ala. - School colors don't matter as much on the floor of the Cancer Center of East Alabama, where patients spend the day receiving chemotherapy drips or blood infusions.
That's why it didn't seem odd at all that the first patient Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik sought out during a visit to the Opelika hospital Monday morning was sporting an Alabama hat and a crimson t-shirt. Stan Simms of Valley, who is battling an aggressive form of colon cancer, said Chizik's visit lifted his spirits--and gave him a chance to ask a pressing question about the upcoming season.
"I told him I just wanted to know if he had another Cam Newton in his back pocket," Simms said. "He said if he did, he wouldn't tell me. We had a good laugh. It was real nice of him to come over and speak to me. He just wished me well. I really appreciated it."
Valley resident Judi Schnarr said Chizik's visit to the Cancer Center lifted her spirits on a day she needed a boost. She came in to the hospital early Monday morning for what she hoped would be her final cycle of chemotherapy in her battle against lung cancer. Instead, she had to receive an infusion of blood because her platelet count was too low for chemo, which had to be re-scheduled for another day.
"I told Coach Chizik this year is the first time I have ever been a football fan, and I loved every minute of it," Schnarr said. "I needed a pick-me-up today, so his visit came at the perfect time."
Chizik's visit to East Alabama Medical Center was part of the Auburn Athletics Department's Third Annual Tigers Give Back Community Service Day. The Auburn head coach said his time at the hospital did more good for him than it did the patients.
"Any time you can go into a place and brighten someone's day and try to give them words of encouragement, that's real important," Chizik said. "That's what today's all about. Any time I go in these kind of venues, it makes you realize how blessed you are and how great you have it."
A few floors up on East Alabama's Skilled Nursing Facility wing, head women's basketball coach Nell Fortner visited with elderly patients recovering from surgery or suffering from other medical complications.
"It's just an opportunity for us to visit with them and encourage them," Fortner said. "We've seen a lot of Auburn fans today, so there are lots of War Eagle's going around."
In Auburn, Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs worked up a sweat at Dean Road Elementary School pruning shrubs and limbing up trees.
"Our student-athletes have been leading the way for the past several years in community service, and we're just trying to follow their example," Jacobs said. "It is really important to us to reach out to the Auburn and Opelika communities as a way to thank them for their support of Auburn University and our student-athletes."
Men's golf coach Nick Clinard was also hard at work at Dean Road Elementary, where staff members did everything from landscaping work to pressure-washing sidewalks and running PE classes.
"I just think it's a wonderful opportunity for us to give back to the community," Clinard said. "That's what Auburn golf is and what the Auburn family and Auburn Athletics are all about."
Coaches and staff members also volunteered at the Auburn and Opelika units of the Boys & Girls Club, the Lee County Youth Development Center and the Women's Hope Medical Clinic.
Head soccer Coach Karen Hoppa joined equestrian coach Greg Williams and women's golf coach Kim Evans at the Opelika unit of the Boys & Girls Club. The trio cleaned out closets, planted flowers and interacted with club members.
"We're just trying to make it a better place for the boys and girls to come," Hoppa said. "The Auburn and Opelika community supports us and our teams in all of our sports, so it's great to have an opportunity to give back."
Gymnastics coach Jeff Graba and members of the Auburn basketball staff volunteered at Cary Woods Elementary School in Auburn, where they helped with PE classes and prepared textbooks to be stored for the coming summer months.
Auburn Athletics Director of Community Relations Latisha Durroh, who organized the event, said the day was a big success.
"We had great participation from the athletic department today, and the community was so appreciative," Durroh said. "This is what being a part of the Auburn family and this community is all about."