Day for Kids brings Crimson Tide, Wolverines together for day of fun with local families
By Ainslie Lee, Florida Citrus Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. — After a week of preparation for battle in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines focused on something much greater than football at Monday morning’s Day for Kids.
A longstanding tradition before each of Florida Citrus Sports’ bowl games — the organization also operates the Camping World Bowl in December — Day for Kids partners local children with players from both schools for a few hours of fun and games with the ‘big kids’ who comprise each team’s roster.
Monday’s event took place at Fun Spot America, and the majority of the 200 kids in attendance live in the West Lakes communities surrounding Camping World Stadium.
“So this is a super special event every year, and the players always prove themselves to be gallant gentlemen with these families,” said Eddy Moratin, the executive director for the non-profit Lift Orlando, an organization founded to benefit the West Lakes after Camping World Stadium’s $200 million facelift in 2014.
“The way they treat the kids, it’s just inspiring for the whole family to watch these young men, who are being shaped by sports and competition into role models for the community,” Moratin continued. “So we’re so thankful, really grateful for them taking the time to do this and make a really memorable day for the kids and all their families.”
To receive an invite to the event, participating kids had to meet certain benchmarks in school. Through its MVP Families program, Florida Citrus Sports also offers game tickets to qualifying kids and their families in exchange for in-classroom accomplishments.
“These kids, each and every single one of them, earned the right to be here today by getting good grades,” Moratin said. “And every time they show up with good grades, the stadium gives the free tickets for the entire family to celebrate at the upcoming event.”
During Monday morning’s festivities, the various player-kid trios hurried through the park to get lined up for rides.
That included Tua Tagovailoa.
Despite suffering a season-ending hip injury that required surgery, the Alabama quarterback made sure to enjoy the one ride he could: the merry-go-round.
Clutching his crutch, Tagovailoa climbed aboard the carousel with a wide grin saying, “I’m on a ride, baby!”
— Ainslie Lee (@AinsliesTwoBits) December 30, 2019
Meanwhile, toward the back of the park, youngsters and their larger-than-life entourages found themselves waiting for an opportunity to square off on the go-kart track.
Despite the speakers surrounding the twisting tracks constantly reminding racers that “the kart ahead has the right of way” and “not to bump other karts,” the advisories ultimately served more as suggestions than ground rules for some of the most competitive college football players in the country.
Throwing caution to the wind, players from both Alabama and Michigan squeezed into the low-sitting karts with one thing in mind: crossing the finish line first.
“Yeah, they both beat me,” eight-year-old Hudson Hurd laughed after climbing out of his ride.
Hurd, who was paired up with Alabama defensive back Joshua Robinson and Michigan wide receiver Giles Jackson, said his experience with the two players was awesome, and he couldn’t pick a favorite.
For Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, the screams and giggles coming from children that stand waist-height next to him are a breath of fresh air.
“An event like this is so cool because all we do is football every day and all day,” Forristall said. “To come back and be able to do this with the kids and spend time with our teammates is a lot of fun.”
And while the week-long trip to Orlando has provided the Crimson Tide with a number of opportunities to step away from the football field, junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III is confident that all the fun won’t hinder the Tide come New Year’s Day.
“We have fun while we can, and when the game comes we treat it just like any other game,” Ruggs said. “Whether it’s a playoff game or whether it’s a bowl game, it’s still a football game.”
But for now, football can wait.