Shark Nation Serving Up More Than Rowdy Atmosphere in Jacksonville
Every now and again as I scour through Twitter and Facebook, a story catches my eye that's worth reading about. Sometimes, that story is worth writing about, too.
On July 5th, my eye caught this picture to the left. On the Fourth of July, a group of seven Jacksonville Sharks fans spent their holiday at to the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville, where over 30,000 children who are critically ill, chronically ill, or seriously injured have been treated since 1988. This group of fans is part of a bigger group known as Shark Nation, the most diehard of season ticket holders.
For the past three years, members of Shark Nation have been volunteering their time to the Ronald McDonald House. They group has also partaken in such as charitable efforts as the Cure Search Walk, food drives for local food banks, and it even sponsored two families for Christmas this past year.
In my conversations with various members of Shark Nation, a boy named Chevan continues to come up as one of the special driving influences behind the group's chartable ways.
Chevan is a five-year old boy who had a tumor behind his left eye. He was staying at the Jacksonville Ronald McDonald House while receiving treatments at local hospitals for his potential life-threatening illness. The bond that he formed with Sharks and their fans was instant according to Patti Whitley, one of the members of Shark Nation, and since that point, the group has been volunteering when it can at the Ronald McDonald House.
Chevan was treated for his tumor in 2011 and returned to his homeland of England, but Shark Nation learned just this week that the cancer had recurred.
"We were so touched at what that poor child went through," said Gabriella Capozzoli, the mother of Sharks kicker Marco Capozzoli.
Another young girl whom Shark Nation met at the Ronald McDonald House is going through her ninth hip surgery this week.
The stories of Chevan and this young girl are only two of the thousands of stories of ill kids at the Jacksonville Ronald McDonald House alone. Most of the children at the Ronald McDonald House are not from the greater Jacksonville area, and some such as Chevan come all the way from the other side of the pond for treatment at local area hospitals.
"We don't realize how many children have problems," said Capozzoli.
Capozzoli reached out to the Ronald McDonald House about the idea of cooking meals for the families of the children in need, and she called upon Shark Nation to help her out. Whitley and several others stepped up to the plate right away, and as Capozzoli put it, "within two hours" all four dates which she signed up for were filled with eager Jacksonville fans who wanted to help out the cause.
Shark Nation cooked donated food for around 70 people on the Fourth of July, and there was more than enough for leftovers for one and all.
On Tuesday, members of Shark Nation headed over to the Ronald McDonald House to do it all over again, and the efforts are in place to make this a monthly occasion during the offseason.
As members of the media, we are often entrenched in stories that involve players and teams giving back to their communities. Sure, it's great to see the Manning family helping build homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and it's remarkable to see Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks giving back to some of the poorer communities in New York, but it isn't often that we hear about fans banding together for the betterment of their own communities.
No, Shark Nation isn't the biggest fan organization in the world, but its involvements in its community made it a story worth telling, and the involvement with the Ronald McDonald House is a cause worth getting behind.
The Ronald McDonald House is in need of new kitchen supplies, everything from utensils to pots and pans to new ovens. I have already pledged to this cause, and if you are interested in helping in any way, whether it be donating supplies, money, or your time if you are in the Jacksonville area, please Contact Me, and I'll be sure to get you in touch with the right people. You can also choose to donate to the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville by visiting the Ronald McDonald House website or clicking on this Direct Link.
I only made it up to Jacksonville for the first time just a few weeks ago, and I was impressed with what the sea of fans dressed in red and black were able to bring to the table. Without a doubt, Jacksonville has one of the best home field advantages in the game today. The most impressive contribution that the Shark Nation has made though, isn't for its favorite AFL team, but for its own community.
Whitley summed the whole process up the best.
"We get more out of doing these things than they do."
Images courtesy of Gabriella Capozzoli (right) and Patti Whitley (left)