While volunteering at a children's hospital, Blake Rockwell and the kids would talk about sports and watch games together, an experience that inspired Rockwell to start Special Spectators, a nonprofit that gets seriously ill children out of the hospital and onto the field.
Rockwell launched the nonprofit in 2002, and since then, more than 10,000 kids and their families have received VIP treatment at college athletic games. Special Spectators works with children's hospitals and universities to set up the visits, with each one unique, but the kids typically meet the coaches and players, get to try on gear, attend a tailgate, sit in the best seats in the house, and go on the field, where they are greeted with cheers. "A lot of these kids, they're in it for the long haul," Rockwell told CNN. "Their treatment protocol might be three years. And their tanks start to run low. Days like this restore the spirit in these kids to continue to fight."
This is a matter close to Rockwell's heart; his older brother, Chuckie, was born with a congenital heart defect, and he wasn't able to play sports, but the kids in their neighborhood made sure he was involved, making him the referee during every game. Chuckie died at 10 years old, right before Blake was born, but he said he always remembered the kindness the other kids showed his brother, and that's why he decided to start volunteering at the children's hospital that treated Chuckie.