OTTUMWA — Sometimes sports serve a bigger purpose than giving fans something to watch or providing the thrills of a victory.
For 8-year-old Mason Shepherd, of Ottumwa, a football game was able to provide him with a moment of pure excitement and joy, where he could forget about the struggles he faces every day.
Mason was diagnosed with Russell-Silver Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes slow growth before and after birth, shortly after he was born. Because of this condition, he has to take daily growth hormone injections and be checked on regularly by doctors at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
One day, when the Shepherds were at one of Mason’s doctor appointments, their doctor suggested to them that they should sign up for the Kid Captain program. The program, now in its fifth year, is a partnership between the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and the Iowa Hawkeyes. It gives 14 children, one at each football game, the chance to be in the spotlight and interact with the coaches and players.
In August, Mason participated in Kids Day at Kinnick Stadium. Each of the Kid Captains toured the stadium and locker rooms, ate ice cream in the press box, met coaches and players, played on the field with some of the players and got assigned a locker with their own jerseys.
“That was really neat,” Mason’s mother, Cindy Shepherd, said.
Shepherd was selected from a field of 462 nominations to be one of this year’s Kid Captains and was assigned to Saturday’s home game against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Shepherd family was invited to a special tailgate and met with the team again before the game. He was taken to the locker room, where he got pictures taken with Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and several players.
Once the team was set to take the field, Shepherd was right there with them as they ran out of the tunnel, and he got the chance to watch warm-ups and the beginning of the game from the sidelines. He even got introduced at the 50-yard line prior to the start of the game.
“They really made him feel like a celebrity,” Cindy said.
According to Cindy, everyone in the Shepherd family is a huge Hawkeye fan, so for Mason to get the chance to be a Kid Captain was very special.
A complete list and short biographies of the 14 Kid Captains for this year’s program can be found at uichildrens.org/kidcaptain/
— To see reporter Josh Vardaman’s Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh