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The big dream of one small fan

Andy Delgado was always picked last when it came to basketball.

The senior special education major was never very good at the sport, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. As a child, Delgado was diagnosed with Dyslexia, a learning disability that had affected his reading ability and his self-esteem when in competition with others. Fortunately, Delgado had a teacher who helped him work through his disability and helped him gain his self-esteem, later inspiring him to want to help other students with disabilities.

Delgado has volunteered at the Buckingham Exceptional Student Center in Fort Myers since January 2013. He spends his time working with severely disabled students who don’t have the capabilities necessary to attend a mainstream school. These students range from 3 to 23 years of age and were born with disorders such as Downs syndrome and cerebral palsy. According to Delgado, once these students reach the age of 24, many of them will end up in an assisted living facility for the rest of their lives.

One student in particular, Patrick Chester, made a big impact on Delgado. When he learned that Delgado was a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, Patrick became enamored in him.

“He came up to me and asked if I play on the basketball team,” Delgado said. “When I told him that I didn’t, he proceeded to tell me that he was going to play on the team one day and that he was going to dunk just like the guys he saw on TV. That was when I got an idea.”

Delgado is the philanthropy chair for FGCU’s newest fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. Its philanthropy is through Push For America, a nonprofit organization that serves people with disabilities. His conversation with Patrick inspired Delgado to make the child’s dream come true.

“People like Patrick may live in a small world, but their dreams are huge,” Delgado said. “I wanted to do something that could change their lives.”

Change their lives he did. On Feb. 6, Patrick and 13 other Buckingham students arrived at Alico Arena in two limousines, complements of Pi Kappa Phi. The 14 students were greeted by a large crowd of fraternity brothers as well as sisters from Kappa Delta. A red carpet was laid out for the guests to walk upon as FCGU students cheered for them on both sides, holding up signs with the names of each individual Buckingham superstar.

Students from the Greek organizations gathered together around 11 a.m. that morning, an hour before the limousines were scheduled to arrive. Excitement and anticipation filled the air as the finishing touches were put together. Delgado did not arrive at Alico Arena until about 11:30 a.m. The moment he was spotted, the crowd cheered.

The event was not publicly announced out of respect for some of the easily overwhelmed Buckingham students. When they arrived, the University students made sure to take a couple of steps back from the red carpet to keep from crowding or intimidating their guests. This did not keep the students from giving the Buckingham superstars a warm welcome, and they cheered as loudly, calling out each individual child’s name.

Jennifer Martone, Kappa Delta’s vice president of community service, felt very connected to the cause because her sorority’s philanthropy works closely with children as well.

“I think it’s a great opportunity that we have to support them and their dreams,” Martone said. “It’s really cool to support these kids and treat them just like they’re on our own basketball team.”

Karen Tharp, the mother of Buckingham student Carrie Tharp, had taken off work to stand among the crowd of FGCU students. While waiting for her daughter to arrive with her peers in the limo, Tharp had already received a text that included a photo of Carrie smiling and saying that she was having a good time. Thirteen-year-old Carrie is both physically and mentally disabled, but her mother said she has the positive attitude of a cheerleader.

“This is such an amazing experience for all of us,” Tharp said. “These kids (the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi) are so amazing. They’ve given us the royal treatment, and they’re changing lives.”

Once the 12 Buckingham students made their way into Alico Arena, they were ushered into the Presidential Suite on the second floor where they were met by the faces of Dunk City: the men’s basketball team. Each of the Buckingham students sported their own personal green and white Buckingham basketball jersey with an individual number on the back.

When everyone was seated, lunch was served and the players on the men’s basketball team introduced themselves and answered any questions that were asked of them.

Senior forward Chase Fieler felt especially connected to the event.

“It means a lot being able to interact with them,” Fieler said. “They’re so happy, so energetic, and it really shows you how lucky some of us are. It’s very humbling to be able to have that kind of effect on them and connect with them through basketball. It’s a way for us to give back, and it teaches us a lot about ourselves.”

After lunch, the Buckingham students posed with the basketball players for a group photo. Someone yelled from the back, “Get Andy in there!”

That’s when another voice from the crowd yelled, “Hey Delgado, not picked last anymore, huh?”

The entire room burst into applause.

The afternoon ended after an hour of playing on the court. Both the men’s basketball team and the Buckingham students took turns shooting hoops and showing off their skills while the members of Greek organizations cheered for them in the stands. Patrick, the event’s “dreamchild,” as Delgado

calls him, did not want to leave the court.

“His favorite part was playing on the court with the team,” Delgado said. “He said that everyone was really nice.”

This was Pi Kappa Phi’s first philanthropy event. The fraternity brothers plan to initiate Patrick as an honorary member. They will continue to do events with him in the future.

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