Since 2003, student-athletes across the nation have been working diligently to make dreams come true for children with life-changing illnesses. Nicole (DuBlois) Semeraro, wife of Saint Leo University’s Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, John Semeraro, introduced student athletes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation while studying and playing volleyball at Bentley College in Massachusetts. As a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative at her school, Semeraro helped to establish the tradition of granting wishes at a National SAAC Meeting. Since then, Division II SAAC members from every state have made it their goal to grant children’s wishes.
“We believed in the mission and the work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and as Division II student-athletes, wanted to find a cause [that] all student-athletes in Division II could work together on,” says John Semeraro, who was previously a member of Saint Leo’s SAAC. “We found that everyone was doing so much great work individually on their campuses – why not try to find a cause where we could make a great impact collectively, regardless of conference affiliation, campus size, or location?”
Saint Leo University also began this mission in 2003, working with other schools from the Sunshine State Conference to reach the minimum $5,000 to grant a child’s wish. However, the 2010-2011 school year set a new benchmark for Saint Leo students and faculty as they single-handedly raised $5,130. At a national level, Division II schools raised $405,752, barely missing their record of $407,683 that was created the year before. “The team worked relentlessly to reach their goal, and we are beyond thrilled that somebody as deserving as Dylan was able to have his wish fulfilled,” said Saint Leo SAAC Advisor and head Women’s Golf coach, Erika Brennan.
Exemplifying the true spirit of the Saint Leo Benedictine core values, students and staff participated in various fundraisers to reach the specified amount needed to make a special child’s wish come true. Thanks to raffles, 50/50 drawings, employee denim days, and direct donations, Dylan, age 12, was able to have his wish granted. On July 3, 2011, Dylan, who suffers from epilepsy, experienced his dream of meeting his idol and favorite football star, Tim Tebow in Denver, Colorado. Upon meeting his wish granters, Maria Jameson and Joe Pearl, Dylan explained his lifelong dream of meeting Tim Tebow by saying, “I’ve always wished I could be like him one day!”
Along with several other Make-A-Wish children, Dylan received a gift bag containing a football, jersey, and autographed memorabilia. Although other children were present, each child got to spend individual time with Tebow and play football. Afterwards, the children had lunch with Tebow at a nearby restaurant where they played arcade games for nearly three hours. The last special experience of the trip included shopping and sightseeing in the beautiful city of Denver. "Being there when Dylan found out he was leaving for Colorado to meet Tim Tebow brought me to tears” said Brennan. “Dylan is a bright young man, full of life, and you could feel how much this meant to him."
This year, the Saint Leo SAAC has set an amazing goal of granting two wishes – an effort that will take $10,000 in donations to be made possible. If you are interested in making a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation through Saint Leo University, please contact Erika Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saint Leo Softball Senior Katie Gwinn contributed to this story.