PHOTO: Glenn and Rachael Caruso were joined at the St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis by five Tommie players for the late June trip: Will Toonen, Xavier Roberts, Tyler Knutson, Charlie Pythian and Noah Borgeson
By JORDAN OSTERMAN / St. Thomas Newsroom
For the fifth consecutive year, the St. Thomas football team were the top fundraisers among 3,500-plus national student fundraising groups that generate funds to support the lifesaving mission of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the world's foremost organization in battling childhood cancer.
St. Thomas helped raise nearly $35,000 in donations during the 2018-19 year. The football team holds the record for any collegiate team in the nation, and in the past five years has raised more than $150,000 for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital through the single annual event, which is more than any single organization in the 18-year history of Up 'til Dawn across the nation.
"I'm continually impressed and amazed at our players' conscious efforts and understanding of their civic responsibility, as well as their leadership role throughout our campus and our Minnesota communities," said St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso. "Our growth here is comprehensive and holistic; they succeed at the highest of levels on the football field, in the classroom as evidenced by the abundance of Hampshire Award and conference honorees, and in their communities and their civic engagement and responsibility as we see here today."
June 25-28, Caruso, his wife, Rachael, and five players were flown to St. Jude's global headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, for the organization's annual Collegiate Leadership Seminar, which brings together St. Jude Up 'til Dawn student leaders from all over the country. It was the fifth year in a row a St. Thomas group was included. The team will also be honored during halftime of a game this fall at O'Shaughnessy Stadium by the St. Jude's Administration and Leadership Committee.
"We're really investing with time and fundraising in the people of St. Jude's and who they support. To see the success that goes on with that, that the fundraising we're doing … is really being put in the best hands possible to make a difference in this world, especially for such a difficult cause, is amazing. The money is going into great hands," said senior Will Toonen, one of the players on this year's trip. "How far St. Jude's has come [in its history], and seeing that they're truly not going to stop fighting until childhood cancer is over, it's very motivating and humbling."
"It's critical for young people to get involved in causes that help others, and I can't think of a cause more worthy or important than helping the children at St. Jude's," said Rachael Caruso, who was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer in November 2017. "Every effort, big or small, put forth to fight against cancer matters and makes a difference. As a mother and a survivor, I see the difference that our young men make, and I'm just so proud of the guys."
The St. Thomas group in Memphis took part in several days' worth of programming, leadership development, visiting the hospital and meeting with families impacted by cancer.
"The tangibility of seeing and feeling what the efforts go toward is something that's almost palpable," said Glenn Caruso, who himself was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4 years old. "You can see the emotion, pride and passion on our players' faces when you walk in and see a patient, a survivor, a 2-year-old with thin hair being pulled around in a Radio Flyer wagon; it brings home the efforts we're trying to put in. It wouldn't be the end of the world if our guys never got a chance to come down; we would still work tirelessly. … And nothing about this validation [as the top fundraising group] is the destination; if we see this as the destination then we've lost the message. This is part of the process of everything we have done and will continue to do."
Since beginning its successful fundraising efforts more than a decade ago, several other Minnesota institutions have become involved with the Up 'til Dawn fundraising efforts, which provides a win-win for the amazing children and workers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St. Thomas' football program began that partnership with St. Jude in 2008. In 2014, 90 players raised $12,865, breaking a national team record. Since then, more and more players have gotten involved in the annual fundraising party, raising more money with each successive year.
"Being able to work with and learn from an organization as tremendous St. Jude's is in education for players in itself: a lesson in civic responsibility and humility in all of our responsibility to help when help is needed," Caruso said.