FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – What began as a Make-A-Wish visit to Gillette Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26, became a dream come true for six boys battling life-threatening illnesses when these young New England Patriots fans experienced the thrill of catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady, spiking footballs with tight end Rob Gronkowski and hanging out with owner Robert Kraft inside the team’s trophy room.
“It’s very exciting to be here,” said Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island Director of Program Services Julie Abel. “Our heartfelt thanks goes to the Kraft family and entire Patriots organization. I think this visit will be something [the wish children] remember. They are having some great laughs today.”
Those laughs came from wish children and adults alike Saturday as their visit was one full of surprises, highlighted by a special visit from Brady and Gronkowski on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
“My favorite part of the day was going out on the field and playing catch with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski,” said wish child Eric Adams, 11, of Moultonborough, N.H., who has been diagnosed with Mature B Cell Leukemia.
Eric, whose wish was to meet Gronkowski, was thrilled to spend time with Brady, too, and hugged each of the Patriots’ stars at the end of his visit.
“I thought Gronkowski and Brady were really cool and I thanked them for [spending time with me],” Eric said.
Brady threw passes to each of the six children with Gronkowski doing his best to cover them defensively.
“These kids are fast!” Gronkowski said with a laugh.
One boy in particular, whose wish was to meet Gronkowski, showed off his quickness against the big tight end.
“I faked and I juked Gronk,” said an excited Dellen Mel, 7, of Hendersonville, N.C., who has been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
After catching passes from Brady, the boys practiced the art of spiking a football with Gronkowski.
“My favorite part of the day was getting on the field and playing catch,” said Richard “Ricky” Cookson, 9, from Revere, who has been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy. “I also got to spike the football with Gronk, which was really cool!”
The boys also got a surprise from the rest of the team, including head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who each stopped by to thank the group for their support.
Earlier in the day, the group toured the facility, beginning with a visit to the Patriots’ media workroom to see where the team holds its weekly press conferences. One-by-one, the children took their turn at the podium, fielding questions from Abel as their families excitedly snapped photos of their young stars to document the special moment.
The next stop was the visitor’s locker room, where the children each found a personalized nameplate above their very own locker with a Patriots jersey of their favorite player hanging inside. With their new jerseys on, the children enjoyed a special visit to Kraft’s office, where the Patriots Chairman and CEO greeted the young fans with gift bags before bringing them into the team’s trophy room for pictures with the Patriots’ three Super Bowl trophies.
“It was pretty cool seeing the Super Bowl trophies and meeting Mr. Kraft,” said Gerardo “Gerry” Hernandez, 19, of Harlingen, Texas, who has been diagnosed with kidney failure.
After learning about the Patriots’ championship history from inside the trophy room, the wish children stepped onto the Gillette Stadium field and played catch with their families in the south end zone before meeting Brady and Gronkowski on the practice fields.
The tour ended with the children holding “post-game” press conferences in the media workroom to share the highlights and favorite moments from what turned out to be a dream day at Gillette Stadium, where laughter was the best medicine and the wishes of six courageous boys came true.