Smile Politely

One giant leap for a man…

You’ve heard soppy stories about the Make-a-Wish Foundation. You’ve seen video shots from softly lit cameras, promoting feel-good material, right?

Our inner cynic tells us the Make-a-Wish racket forms a convenient partnership between sports publicists and uniquely-abled children. I’m fine with that. I approve cynicism. I’ll add that Make-a-Wish makes a real impact on real lives. It’s possible that it changes outcomes.

I saw something on Saturday that I’ve never seen before. Nathan Scheelhaase, the winning quarterback, the media darling, the coolest cat I’ve interviewed in all of sports, the guy who keeps the cameras waiting longer than any member of the Illini family; Nathan Scheelhaase peeked into the team room — an auditorium where Ron Zook addresses the media on Saturdays, and the team on practice days — before he’d even removed his shoulder pads. He bent down and thanked Trenton Faullin for coming to the game. Then he turned to thank Trevor Fauillin, Trenton’s older brother. Then he ducked out.

It happened quickly. If I hadn’t had my camera on already, I’d have missed it.

Nathan Scheelhaase is a believer. While he gave his opinions about football, his John 3:16 t-shirt expressed opinions about things he might believe to be even more important than football.

I’m not a supernaturalist myself, but I strongly believe in the power of humans to inspire humans. What’s so hard about moving an inflated pigskin across a level playing field? It might seem impossible at times, but when you’ve seen the impediments that others conquer, the game suddenly appears to be… a game.

Make-a-Wish provides a nearly-free service to sports teams. For the cost of providing intimate access to players, coaches, locker rooms and stadia, the foundation gives a philosophical boost to those who need it most: physically perfect athletes in need of psychological motivation.

Trenton turned sixteen on September 23rd. He expressed himself like most kids his age, non-verbally and with unmistakable excitement. If he didn’t want people to know he was having a great time, he forgot to hide it. When I asked him about the experience, he flashed a thumbs up of Roger Ebert proportions.

Trevor will be seventeen in November. He doesn’t have the same freedom of movement that Trenton enjoys. His communications are not immediately comprehensible to the uninitiated; although his dad Mike was in communion with him throughout, stroking his hair and talking in a calm, low voice. Trevor reclined in his chair throughout Ron Zook’s post-game press conference. I don’t know how much of it he perceived. I do know he couldn’t possibly be aware of the impact he made on the team.

This is not my first run-in with the Faullin family. I recall mixing a cocktail for Cynthia in 2007. I pestered Linda Faullin for a photo of her great orange outfit in 2008.

After the press conference, Trenton motored himself down the hallway… maybe a little too fast … while his mother beamed, and tried to keep up. Sixteen year-old drivers always make us nervous. You could see he was moving with an extra spring in his axle.

The odd thing about the Faullin brothers is their power. Trenton needs a little technology to get around. Trevor needs help from his family to get by. And yet the two of them were able to move 11 muscular athletes 95 yards when it mattered most, to move 53,000 orange-clad zanies to their feet, to move an entire nation of Illini fans to believe.

Well done boys.

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