It happens almost every day at Philadelphia Eagles training camp.
After practice ends, the players pass by a hospitality tent on their way to the locker room at the NovaCare Complex. Fans line up behind a chain and hope the Eagles will stop and sign jerseys, footballs and other mementos.
On Friday, the group included Giovanni Hamilton, an 11-year-old from Muncy, Pennsylvania, who was sitting in a wheelchair while clad in a green No. 11 jersey. He was desperately hoping to meet his favorite player, quarterback Carson Wentz.
Giovanni’s mother, Shannon, explained to ESPN.com her son has a rare, genetic condition called Schwartz Jampel syndrome. He has undergone 12 operations since age 2, including hip construction, eye surgery and jaw distraction two months ago.
“His jaw was lengthened an inch, and we had to turn pins every day to move it a millimeter a day,” Shannon told ESPN.com. “It was really painful and just awful. But he told me, ‘Mom, I’m going to be strong like Carson. Look at how he’s doing with his knee. Look at how he’s doing with his back.’ And it just meant everything for him to finally meet Carson.”
The meeting was arranged through a foundation based in Williamstown called Bianca’s Kids.
Wentz came over to sign Giovanni’s jersey and chat with him for a few minutes. Gionvanni reportedly had a speech planned but became so overwhelmed he just blurted, “You’re my hero,” before reaching out for a hug.
Later that day, someone sent a video clip of the encounter to Wentz.
He broke down.
“Hearing him tell me I’m his hero and that I inspired him through his surgeries, it brought me to tears,” Wentz said Monday. “Meeting kids like Giovanni and other kids like that honestly inspires me. It reminds me that there is so much more to this football game than wins and losses on Sundays.”
Wentz gets it.
So do other athletes such as Nick Foles, Mike Trout and Matt Szczur. They realize how they play may not be as important as how they act and how they interact outside the lines. A selfless gesture, a smile and sometimes even a hug can have a powerful, lasting impact on people, especially kids.
Foles found that out last summer during Eagles training camp. Foles, who is now with Jacksonville, was leaving the field after practice when he noticed Somers Point resident Cindy Williamson, who was behind that chain with her daughter Kendall.
Kendall, now 8 1/2, has metachromatic leukodystrophy, an incurable genetic disease that aggressively attacks the nervous system. Over the years, Kendall has lost the ability to speak, eat and move.
Foles paused, then climbed over the rope, approached the family and happily posed with the Williamson family.
“My mission with her is to make the most of every day and make memories,” Cindy said last year. “What Nick did is something I will forever cherish. I had tears in my eyes when he came over that rope.”
Trout, the Los Angeles Angels outfielder from Millville, showed his compassion recently by meeting Philadelphia’s Jake Lojewski and his family at a recent Angels game in Anaheim, California.
Lojewski, 20, has cystic fibrosis. The college sophomore, who is majoring in biochemistry, has a feeding tube and undergoes breathing treatments every day. He was visiting through the Make A Wish Foundation, and his was to meet Trout, who grew up about 40 miles from Philadelphia in Millville.
Lojewski got to take batting practice with the Angels, then Trout spent a few minutes chatting and posing for pictures with him and his family.
Trout is well-known for his interactions with young fans. He’s been known to have a catch with a kid between innings and signs hundreds of autographs before and after games.
Last year, instead of going out to dinner and having a party on his birthday (Aug. 7), he spent the day visiting patients at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Szczur, now an outfielder with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ triple-A affiliate in Reno, Nevada, famously donated bone marrow in 2009 while a student at Villanova University to a young girl in the Ukraine who had leukemia.
Three years ago, while playing for the Chicago Cubs, he got a chance to talk to Anastasia Olkhovsky, who is now 10, via Skype one day.
Wentz, Foles, Trout and Szczur are all heroes.
And it has nothing to do with sports.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.