MADISON, Wis. — This past Friday, students across campus were spending the day preparing for final exams. Some student-athletes, however, took a break from their busy practice and study schedules to visit kids at the American Family Children’s Hospital.
This visit to the hospital was not a unique occurrence. Student-athletes from various teams have made a special trip to the hospital every Friday throughout the semester. While at the hospital, student-athletes go room to room, sharing smiles and gifts such as autographed posters, t-shirts, board games and teddy bears.
“The visits to the children’s hospital are a favorite among our student-athletes,” said Jackie Davenport, Director of Community Relations for UW Athletics. “It’s a great opportunity for student-athletes to promote our mission of enriching lives by encouraging, engaging and serving others.”
These visits — coined “Badger Fridays” — began as a tradition with the football team over 15 years ago, when UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez was still the head coach. Football players — like Olive Sagapolu, Chris Orr and Keelon Brookins (pictured above, 2016) — would make a special visit to the children’s hospital as part of their Friday pre-game ritual. While the football team’s tradition is still ongoing, it has expanded to involve all the sports teams at UW-Madison.
“The weekly Badger Friday visits from the student-athletes are really appreciated by the patients and families. Many patients look forward to meeting student-athletes from many different teams at UW-Madison,” said Julie Auenson, Child Life Services Manager for the American Family Children’s Hospital. “Some patients even get decked out in their Badger gear before the visit to make those photos with the student-athletes extra special to share with their families.”
While these Badger Friday visits are very meaningful to the patients and families who meet the student-athletes, the visits also have a huge impact on the student-athletes who visit.
“It’s priceless to see the massive grin on some of the kids’ faces when we walk into the room,” said Kelsey Grambeau, a junior on the women’s tennis team. “I am constantly inspired by their strength and positivity.”
Though the semester is soon to be over, Badger Friday visits will resume again in January, giving more opportunities for both student-athletes and patients to share smiles and brighten each other’s day.