May 1, 2014
From left, Shon Coleman, Chad Slade, LaDarius Owens and Ben Bradley wit Wesley-Kate Crocker and her grandmother, Bari Hodges (Phillip Marshall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – For the family of 3-year-old Wesley-Kate Crocker, Shon Coleman and other Auburn football players brought a message of hope Wednesday to Wrights Mill Road Elementary School.
Wesley-Kate has been diagnosed with leukemia, similar to the leukemia that put Coleman’s football career on hold for almost three years. Today, he’s a mountain of a man competing to be Auburn’s starting left tackle. No sign of the cancer remains.
“For sure, it’s always good to encourage other people, especially young kids,” Coleman said. “It’s always a good thing to do things like this. I believe it means the world to a lot of these kids. It’s something they’ll probably never forget.”
The administration, faculty and students at Wrights Mill came together to support Wesley-Kate through her grandmother. Bari Hodges is a beloved physical education teacher’s aide.
In April, Wrights Mill started Walking Wednesdays to support Wesley-Kate. Students have worn orange, the color of leukemia awareness, and walked in support of Wesley-Kate. They dropped coins into large jugs and tied orange ribbons to the fence around the school’s field.
When Kim Garner, wife of Auburn associate head coach and defensive line coach Rodney Garner, got word of what was going on, she wanted to help. Three of the Garner children are students at Wrights Mill. Kim asked some Auburn football players to visit Wednesday. Coleman, offensive lineman Chad Slade, defensive end LaDarius Owens, defensive tackle Ben Bradley, defensive end Elijah Daniel, defensive tackle Montravius Adams and Aubie made the trip from campus.
Brandy Hodges, Wesley-Kate’s mother, said the support has lifted the family’s spirits as Wesley-Kate undergoes weekly treatments at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
“It’s wonderful,” Hodges said. “How do you even thank somebody for this? Wrights Mill has been incredible. Wesley-Kate looks forward to Walking Wednesday every week. It’s really lifted her spirits. The community of Auburn has been wonderful.”
For Slade, it brought back memories of a little boy affectionately called Superman. Slade befriended him and was close to him until his death last year. Wesley-Kate’s prognosis is very positive, her mother said.
“It really hits home to me,” Slade said. “I know it means a lot to the kids. I know we are role models to them. It’s good to put a smile on the kids’ faces.”
Owens said players can make a difference in children’s lives. And he said he feels an obligation to do his part.
“I didn’t have many finals, so when we first got news of it I said I was going to be able to come,” Owens said. “It is good to get out here and see the kids. We have influence that we don’t even realize at times.”
Wesley-Kate’s mother said the raw fear that came with the news that her daughter has acute lymphoblastic leukemia has been replaced with optimism that she will come out the other side healthy and whole like Coleman has done.
“It’s one of those moments right out of the movie,” Hodges said. “You literally hit the floor. But we’ve been going to Children’s, and they are just wonderful. It’s going great.”
Kim Garner with Elijah Daniel, Montravius Adams, Aubie and Ben Bradley at Wright’s Mill Road Elementary School.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: