Midstate non-profit inspires 7-year-old's viral touchdown moment - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

Midstate non-profit inspires 7-year-old's viral touchdown moment

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If you tuned in to abc27, ESPN or even YouTube over the weekend, you probably couldn't miss the now-viral video of a 7-year-old boy battling brain cancer running a 69-yard touchdown at a University of Nebraska spring game.

But you might not know that the non-profit foundation at the center of that amazing moment has its roots in Harrisburg.

Scott Shirley is founder and executive director of "Uplifting Athletes," which energizes collegiate football players to band together to raise money and awareness of rare diseases.

"College football players are in a unique position in that people are watching everything they do," he said.

Shirley's mission began nearly ten years ago, while still a student athlete at Penn State University. His father, the long-time baseball coach at Mechanicsburg High School, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Shirley said his family were shocked upon learning it was considered a "rare disease" -- meaning it affects less than 200,000 Americans -- with little to no treatments.

"We were told nothing can be done because nobody cares, and it's a very lonely feeling," Shirley said.

His father eventually lost his battle with cancer, but not before Shirley began the "Lift for Life" at Penn State. That eventually turned into the first chapter of Uplifting Athletes, and has since expanded to 20 chapters at schools nationwide.

"It really gives these causes some longevity on campus," Shirley said. "I think that this story is really the only evidence you need -- it happened on the Saturday of the Final Four and it headlined every media outlet in the country."

The touchdown seen and heard around the nation initially began when Jack Hoffman, a Nebraska native, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer nearly two years ago. His father contacted the University of Nebraska to ask for an autograph from Jack's favorite player, Rex Burkhead. But instead, Burkhead decided to meet Jack personally.

After visiting with Jack, Burkhead was given a "Team Jack" red bracelet, which he wore in the October 2011 game against Ohio State.

"At the end of the game, Nebraska mounted their biggest comeback in school history and Rex carried the team down the field on his shoulders to score the winning touchdown," Shirley said. "Afterwards, he said that every time he got in the huddle, he thought 'if that little boy can do it, I can too'."

Following the historic game, Burkhead received several nominations for the yearly Uplifting Athletes award, and "received more votes than the Iowa Caucus," according to Shirley.

Burkhead then decided to start his own chapter at Nebraska. He has since graduated, but other players continue his mission, as seen through Saturday's magical sports moment.

"It wasn't done for PR, and it wasn't done as a marketing idea," Shirley said. "It was really a group of guys that rallied around a kid and a coach who see Jack as a member of their team."

Since the chapter began, Nebraska has raised $275,000 for pediatric brain cancer research. But Shirley expects thousands more as a result of "Team Jack" T-shirts that are currently on back-order.

For more information on "Team Jack" and Uplifting Athletes, go to www.upliftingathletes.org.

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