By Gianmarc Manzione
ARLINGTON, Texas -If the phrase “charity event” brings to mind stuffy soirees and poker-faced philanthropists in suits and ties, you’ve never been to a C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities event.
Anyone in attendance at Wilson’s second annual “Strike Out” bowling event at Splitsville Lanes in Arlington, Texas on Aug. 12 knows that in C.J. Wilson’s world, the word “charity” is as much about turn tables and good times as it is about the price of the tickets they buy to get in the door.
“I think a lot of people equate philanthropy with a stuffy, bourgeois kind of thing,” explained Wilson, a starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers with 116 strikeouts so far this season. “I love this venue and I have a really good time making it casual and fun. I want to show people that they can make a difference, too. It’s about the time and effort that they put in by coming to events like this as much as it is about any money the event raises.”
Any starting pitcher in Major League Baseball can send a check to the charity of their choice. But for Wilson, the point is not money; the point is to generate community awareness of the plight that faces children such as eight-year-old Micah Champagne.
“Micah has severe hemophilia. It’s a bleeding disorder that affects 18,000 people in the U.S.,” explains Micah’s father Robert, President of C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities. “He takes IVs every other day that help prevent internal bleeding or anything like that.”
The daily experience of most boys is characterized by sights and sounds that will linger in their memories for life: the shriek of a referee's whistle at a flag football game, the wads of gum they chew in little league dugouts, the crashing of pins at a Saturday morning youth league. But when C.J. Wilson met Micah Champagne in a place where childhood is anything but typical — the Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas — the two hit it off like old buddies and C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities was born.
Robert Champagne with his son Micah
“The Texas Rangers were at the hospital while my son was being treated for complications with hemophilia, and C.J. came over and he and my son just clicked,” Robert Champagne explains. “As a dad, that meant the world to me. I wrote C.J. a letter thanking him, and he contacted me. We started this charity shortly after that.”
The bond that Wilson formed with Micah in the hospital that day now is an event that brings Micah’s story to people from throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth community — an event that sold 300 walk-up tickets in 2009 and, this year, attracted nearly 500 attendees.
“We do this to promote awareness and community involvement, not for the money,” Robert Champagne says. “If this were about writing a big check, C.J. would write a big check. It’s more about community awareness and letting people know that they need to get involved in their community.”
If they happen to have as much fun as college kids in a frat house on a Friday night in the meantime, well, that’s how it is when C.J. Wilson takes up a cause.
“Really want to see someone do the funky chicken or some other robot moves on the dance floor. Party at Splitsville!” Wilson posted on his Twitter page from the event, where teammate Elvis Andrus, Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels and the team mascot joined in on the fun.
Robert Champagne with C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers
The combined force of Wilson’s generosity and the money he raises at local charity events helps to return some sense of normalcy to the lives of boys and girls whose childhoods have been interrupted by illness.
“We provide patient comfort items like video games, televisions, DVD players, entertainment centers, things like that,” Robert Champagne explains. “We just want to try to provide a better experience for the kids in these hospitals.”
“The response has been great,” Wilson says. “It seems with each event we throw, we get a little bit more notoriety, more media attention, more attendance.”
Be sure to check in with C.J. Wilson’s website, leftylefty.com, for information on upcoming C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities events.