Cailen Rundles, a 10-year-old fourth grader from Mount Vernon Elementary School, was honored as a special guest of the University of North Georgia athletic department’s A FIELD OF DREAMS: Make-A-Wish Day on Tuesday evening. The events were centered on the No. 26 Nighthawks’ home baseball game with West Florida.
Cailen has honorably fought Chiari Malformation, a condition that hits home here at North Georgia. Cailen’s baseball teammate Bo Edwards and UNG cheerleader Madison Davis have both honorably battled this specific illness.
The day began with a formal three-car police escort for Cailen and his family from the athletic offices in Memorial Hall to Coleman Field House where he was signed in a formal press conference as a member of head baseball coach Tom Cantrell‘s team.
“Having a warrior like Cailen join our team is a testament to everything good about the game of baseball,” stated Cantrell. “It was an honor to have him share his story with our team and a memory that our Nighthawk family will never forget.”
Prior to the pregame ceremonies, Cailen and his family were embraced by the UNG community during a campus-wide tailgating event.
The highlight of the day was the completion of a suspended game with West Florida in which Cailen entered the game as a pinch runner and eventually scored the winning run before a frenzied packed house a Bob Stein Stadium.
The game required scripted participation by the UNG and West Florida baseball teams and coaches as well as the umpires.
Cailen was honored before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch with personalized gifts that included an engraved Louisville Slugger bat and an autographed football from the Atlanta Falcons. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan also provided Cailen with a personal message wishing him well on his upcoming trip to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
Representatives from the Mount Vernon Elementary School, the NCAA, Make-A-Wish National Foundation and Make-A-Wish Georgia Chapter were on hand for the special occasion, and numerous representatives from local media outlets provided coverage from all angles.
The University of North Georgia Athletic Department raised over $21,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation during the 2013-14 year, marking the highest total ever from a single institution in the history of the NCAA Division II initiative. UNG has donated the highest amount of money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in three of the past four years.
Through a joint collaboration between the national Make-A-Wish office and the NCAA, five Division II schools nationally are part of a wish reveal each year. A FIELD OF DREAMS: Make-A-Wish Day was the third consecutive year that the North Georgia athletic department has welcomed a Make-A-Wish wish recipient to one of its teams’ rosters.
“It was really special to be a part of the North Georgia Make-A-Wish game, for a young man, Cailen, who’s battling a disease,” UWF coach Mike Jeffcoat said. “I thought our guys did a tremendous job participating in that. North Georgia ran a first-class event.”