Top-ranked Alabama and Tennessee will share the same football field this Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
The father of this boy, Tucker Hamilton, made the suggestion that Tennessee players carry Beads Of Courage for a recent game
The schools have also been involved in sharing another cause this season.
In recent weeks, players at both Alabama and Tennessee have played in games while wearing Beads of Courage. The Beads of Courage program, which has been around for about a decade, provides a way to honor and acknowledge the incredible courage that children facing serious illness demonstrate every day. .
There is an interesting story regarding Tennessee’s involvement in the program, which culminated in a recent visit by six UT players to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Trent Hamilton, who lives outside Dallas, has a son, Tucker, who is dealing with a congenital heart defect. Tucker Hamilton is a member of the Beads of Courage Cardiac Program and has been further involved with Beads of Courage as a poster kid.
“I’m Texas born and raised and so is my wife,” Trent Hamilton said. “But my wife’s dad grew up outside Chattanooga. He’s been a Tennessee fan his whole life. I kind of married into the Tennessee fandom with that family. It’s almost an obsession for me at this point. That’s my team and that’s who I follow.”
Trent Hamilton saw a news report where Alabama players had been involved with the Beads of Courage program.
“When I heard and saw on Twitter that Alabama players were carrying beads, I said, ‘If Alabama is doing it, then Tennessee needs to be doing it, too,’ ” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he sent an e-mail to the Tennessee athletic department to suggest that the Vols get involved.
Tennessee players made an Oct. 14 visit to a Chattanooga children's hospital
“I got a response and that got the ball rolling,” Hamilton said. “Within 24 hours, they said somebody would call me. I didn’t know I would get a response. They jumped on it right then and said they wanted to do it.”
He was contacted by UT administrator Antone Davis, who oversees the Vol For Life program. That program is UT’s community outreach for its football program. It also provides a connection for former players to the program and helps prepare current players for life after football.
Beads Of Courage encourages caring individuals to make a commitment to Carry A Bead in honor a child coping with serious illness. Every individual who makes a commitment to Carry A Bead is welcomed as a valuable member of Team Beads of Courage.
“That part encourages athletes to carry beads on their person while they compete,” Hamilton said. “At the last Summer Olympics, they coordinated with some of the athletes to wear beads. Then, they gave those beads to some kids who needed encouragement.
“It’s a real simple thing. They just have to find a way for the players to carry them. Then, last week, the players who carried the beads during the Georgia game, went to a hospital in Chattanooga to visit kids with cancer. They took their beads and hand delivered them to kids who need encouragement.
"These beads were added to their Beads of Courage collection."
Getting The Beads Rolling
Hamilton’s main contact with Beads Of Courage has been Ashley Ethridge, the organization's director of communications and encouragement programs. The program was the brainchild of an Arizona-based pediatric nurse, Dr. Jean Baruch.
UT's Rajion Neal helps a youngster with his Beads Of Courage lanyard
“Beads Of Courage is an Arts-and-medicine non-profit organization,” Ethridge said. “We support children all over the world. We are in over 150 hospitals with our arts-and-medicine program. Our programs aim to transform the treatment experience, strengthen resilience based outcomes, and improve the quality of life for participants as they experience the healing benefits of narrative medicine. Beads of Courage Programs currently support over 30,000 children in over 150 participating member hospitals.
"Through the Beads Of Courage program, children are able to create a visual narrative of their treatment journey. Everything they go through, from the time they are diagnosed with every poke and test and every challenging treatment, is recorded in this beautiful way.”
The program has grown from dealing strictly with cancer patients to any child facing a disease or health challenge. It has also expanded around the globe, Ethridge said.
“We hope that one day the only stories to be told are stories of a childhood without serious illness. But until that day, we will do all that we can to create a way for children and their families to record, tell and own their stories of courage.” she said.
Ethridge is based in Nashville and is a Tennessee grad, so Tucker Hamilton’s cause was special to her.
“We are always asked if we can make a bead for a specific college team,” Ethridge said. “Tucker, about three years ago, was asked in preparation for a Celebration of Courage event, if you could have any bead in the world, what would it be? He wanted Tennessee beads. I happen to be the one who was working on his request and I happened to go to Tennessee.
“Over the years, we have stayed in contact and he has shared lots of photos and we have made posters with Tucker. Personally, anybody who wants Tennessee beads, I have to help them out – especially if they live in Texas,” she added with a laugh.
When Trent Hamilton suggested that they find a way for Tennessee football players to wear the beads, she was excited to get involved.
UT administrator Antone Davis Tweeted this photo of UT player Joshua Dobbs with his Beads Of Courage before the Georgia game
“Trent and I e-mailed back and forth and we said, ‘Hey, we can’t let Alabama carry beads if Tennessee is not going to carry beads.’ That’s where it started,” she said.
“You make a commitment to carry a bead on behalf of a child. We’ve had beads go up on two different shuttle missions. They have gone with Olympic athletes. We’ve had beads go all over the world on crazy adventures. We’ve had celebrities carry beads.”
The players wore their handmade glass Power T beads for the Oct. 5 game against Georgia, which Tennessee lost at home in overtime (34-31).
Players who carried beads were running back Rajion Neal, quarterback Joshua Dobbs, kicker/punter Michael Palardy, defensive back Cameron Sutton, offensive lineman Austin Sanders, and quarterback Nathan Peterman.
Prior to the game, Davis sent out a Twitter message regarding the beads:
“@beadsofcourage Dobbs just tied his bead on very close to his heart in honor of courageous kids! #CarryaBead #VFL” he sent from his account (@Antone_Davis).
On Oct. 14, the six UT players who carried beads made a visit to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger outside Chattanooga.
“There were six players who came down to Chattanooga,” Ethridge said. "It was beautiful to bear witness to the joy of the families, kids and clinicians as the players presented beads, signed jerseys, made beaded bracelets, and visited hospital rooms, all to bring a boost of encouragement to those who need it most.
Alabama QB A.J. McCarron Tweeted this photo of toddler Charlie Jean with her Beads Of Courage
“I have never been so proud to be a Vol for Life. To see the kids light up, it just speaks a million words.”
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron wore beads for the Crimson Tide’s Sept. 21 game against Colorado State.
Prior to the game, he sent out this Twitter message from his account (@10AJMcCarron): “Can't wait to #carryabead for this beautiful girl Charlie Jean this game while she is fighting cancer. #twins”
Ethridge said Shepherd and his foundation work directly with Children’s Hospital of Alabama as the local sponsor for the Beads of Courage program.
“Through monthly visits to Childrens Hospital of Birmingham, fundraisers, football games, and more, we look to help children find a reason to live and fight through their ailments,” Shepherd said on his the web site for the Austin Shepherd Foundation.
Ethridge added, “Their organization provides the funding to make Beads Of Courage possible at a hospital there. They also go in and constantly encourage the kids.”
It is unclear whether players for Alabama or Tennessee will wear Beads of Courage in their game Saturday afternoon. But Ethridge said the players involved on both sides have already done a lot to lift up the spirits of ailing children in their home states.
For more information on Beads of Courage, check out the organization’s web site here.