It’s ten minutes until kick off between Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United, and a group of Sporting KC owners and friends are gathered in Sporting Park’s Victory Suite.
Among the food, talking and laughing, as game time approaches, Xander Reynolds steals the show.
It is, in fact, his night.
Xander leans over to ask his mom, Debra for a pen and piece of paper. She pulls an envelope out of her purse, and Xander begins to draw a series of lines and dashes on it, demonstrating to the group gathered around him the new language he’s learning in school.
Xander flashes a smile and shows everyone his name written in Braille.
The eight-year-old has a brain tumor that is causing blindness in one eye and severely diminished vision in the other, and through Sporting Club’s newest program, The Victory Project, Xander is given the opportunity to be Friday night’s guest of honor.
While Sporting Park has always recognized a child battling cancer at its home matches, The Victory Project now offers something more.
The Victory Project will give Sporting KC players, owners and fans the opportunity to donate to a specific child’s needs and see first-hand where their donation will go.
“It’s something that’s key to the way the ownership here runs,” Sporting KC Community Programs Manager Brandi Thomas said. “A lot of people have been affected by cancer, so it just made sense that we continued that.”
Before the game Xander was given a tour of Sporting Park and after the game he got to meet all Sporting KC’s players on the field. While there were a lot of things Xander enjoyed about the night, he said his favorite part was knowing he had the opportunity to receive a TOPAZ CCTV through the donations made towards The Victory Project during the match.
The TOPAZ CCTV is a special desktop monitor that enlarges information on its screen so Xander can see it. He has one available to him at school, but his insurance does not cover the $3,000 it costs to have one in his home.
“Xander wanted a CCTV for Christmas, but I wasn’t able to make that happen,” Reynolds said, “so I was working with a social worker at Children’s Mercy to find an organization to help us buy one for our home because he uses one in school, but he’s starting to fall behind because he can’t read and practice at home like the other kids can.”
With the help of the Victory Project, Xander will now have the opportunity to learn at home.
“What we wanted to do was try to do something that was very visible in Kansas City, and little kids like Xander and others down the road will benefit from this,” CEO of Sporting Club Robb Heineman said. “The donations have been off the graph. We’ve had thousands and thousands of dollars donated. We had somebody walk up to a concession stand and donate 1,500 bucks. That’s cool stuff, so it shows the power of Kansas City, the power of the crowd and hopefully that can benefit a bunch of kids here in town.”
Along with the immense support shown by Sporting KC supporters Friday night in Sporting Park, the team’s players also decided to be involved in helping with The Victory Project.
“I think it’s a really cool project, and I think it’s a great way for us to stay involved in cancer,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said. “We actually had a players-only meeting, and we got together and we’re going to come together after each game that (honors a specific child) and contribute as players.”
Xander was on the field when Sporting KC forward Claudio Bieler scored his 89th-minute goal that secured Sporting KC a 1-0 win over D.C. United. High-fives were given and received by the eight-year-old, and when the final whistle blew, he got to meet all the players at the team’s bench.
“We have a lot of players, staff and members of our organization that deal with cancer,” Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong said, “and it’s a very real thing to us. That’s one thing I really appreciate about this team, they not only instill it in you, they make you want to be that person. When we go and do those things and see how much it affects somebody, that’s really fulfilling.”
Through The Victory Project, the players will be given the opportunity to work with the community off the pitch, as the project has partnered with other organizations in the area including First Hand Foundation, the Supporting Kids Foundation and the Children’s Mercy Cancer Center.
“I feel like our team is different than a lot of other teams because our players have that relationship with the community,” Thomas said. “I mean, that’s why our fans come out and we sell out most games. When you see them around the community they’re really giving, they’re willing to give their time doing things like that.”
During home games, fans are able to donate at any point of sale in Sporting Park. Also, by texting the word VICTORY to 72727, a link will kick back and take you directly to the program’s donation page.
For more information about The Victory Project, you can check out its website at www.VictoryKC.org.
“I hope we can do a lot of impactful things,” Heineman said. “If we and our fans can help make the lives of somebody’s kids better, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”