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Football game raises money, spirits

Tampa, Florida -- The East-West Shrine Game can be a lot of fun for those watching it at Tropicana Field each January.

It also comes with a big benefit, from the college all-star game itself, to the visits that players make beforehand with pediatric patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa. 

"I got to meet Zach and Chris," says seven-year-old Jessica Hendricks, a patient at Shriners. "We drew elephants."

To college football fans, "Zach and Chris" are tight end Zach Sudfeld of Nevada and running back Christine Michael from Texas A&M.

But to Jessica, they're friends.

PHOTOS: See photos of the players with the kids of Shriners

"Zach and Chris were really nice to me," she says.

"That was an awesome moment to see," adds her mother, Eileen, "Knowing they're with your daughter and they're taking moments out of their time to be with a little child and treat them like they're their best friend."

Money raised through the East-West Shrine Game benefits the hospital, which benefits kids like Jessica. She has Spina Bifida, and relies on the hospital for things like leg braces.

"If it weren't for Shriners, I don't think she'd be walking," Eileen says. "She does not like leaving this place. When she was smaller, she used to cry every time we left, so that's how much she loves coming here."

That's why it's so heartwarming for families and doctors to see the East-West Shrine Game making a difference for Shriners Hospitals.

"When these players arrive at our hospital and they're out on the dance floor with the kids and they're on the basketball courts, they're instilling a sense of hope, a sense of ambition and encouragement for these kids," says  Dino Scanio, a staff pediatric orthotist who's worked with Jessica since she was just two months old. 

"It's a sense of normalcy. Being here within their own home, and having players arrive and interact with them will leave lifelong memories."


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