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Athletes Winning Off the Field

September 2011

thursdays-heroes Thursday’s Heroes Kendra and Maliyah pose with their parents Jake and Erin Herrin and then-BYU football players Max Hall and Quinn Gooch. Formerly conjoined twins, Maliyah and Kendra Herrin were born joined at the abdomen and torso and were separated in a marathon surgery in August 2006. The family—one of dozens to receive the recognition in recent years, visited a Thursday football practice in 2007.

Last year I had the opportunity to interview BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe for an annual report that would be mailed to all Cougar Club members. Tom, as expected, talked about BYU’s athletics successes. But he also shared a heartwarming story that made me realize that BYU’s athletes are winning off the field as well.

“I’ll tell you about Thursday’s Heroes,” Tom began. “We started this program years ago with Bronco. Early on a father brought a son who had had brain surgery. He had gone through radiation and chemotherapy. He came up here to my office. They had three or four other kids and asked us, ‘Hey, can we watch practice?’

“It was the day before a (football) game, and I said, ‘You know what, let’s go over to the stadium.’ I didn’t even know who the guy was.

“It was kind of casual. I called over to Bronco and said, ‘Hey, Bronco, come meet these guys.’ I told him their story and he said, ‘Hey, come on down.’

“The father said, ‘No, no, we just wanted to watch.’ But Bronco persisted saying, ‘No, come on down on the field.’

“Then Bronco went and got a couple players. He brought the team together and introduced them. The dad’s looking at me like, ‘This is way too much.’

“Eventually I had to leave, but I told them to stick around. Well, as it turned out, the players—John Beck and Cameron Jensen—invited the dad and the boy to go on the team bus over to the hotel to watch the team movies. So they went on the bus while the rest of the family drove behind.

“The next day I got on the field before the game and the little kid’s down on the field with Cameron and John. And the next thing I know they’re holding his hand; they bring him out for the flip of the coin before the game. I saw the dad on the field and asked him, ‘What’s going on?’


“And he said, ‘I give up.’

“But I said, ‘These guys want to do it.’ It started a real friendship. The kid has gotten better now. He’s had a few relapses, but he’s started to play Little League baseball. And Cameron and John still write to him.

“That was the beginning of Thursday’s Heroes. We didn’t start calling it Thursday’s Heroes, but one by one we would meet these kids in the community who were struggling. And then it got to be not just kids, but some older folks. Then we brought some military personnel in and it got to be too much, so Bronco said, ‘Okay, every Thursday we’re going to do this.’

“Sometimes they’ll bring in more than one on a Thursday. They give them their own Y flag signed by everybody on the team. Then the hero signs the team flag.”

Tom wrapped up this part of the interview by saying, “What happens behind the scenes are things the fans will never see, but I can assure you that in every sport similar stories of goodwill, love, brotherly kindness, and service are happening all the time.”

Go, Cougars!