OGDEN -- Sometimes football drills bring out the drill sergeant in a coach, with the accompanying red face, bulging eyes and hoarse hollering, but when everything is lined up right, it can be all smiles.
Saturday morning was the latter kind as Weber State's football program hosted 21 families of kids with life-threatening conditions at Stewart Stadium, running them through a variety of drills with the intent to involve everyone, including some who needed help from motorized wheelchairs to make it to the field.
The families were brought together with Weber State's football program by the HopeKids organization after WSU coach Jody Sears met C.R. Oldham, executive director of the Utah chapter, at their church. They began planning the event together last winter, Sears said, and on Saturday, he supervised the 125 HopeKids participants with a smile.
"You've got to leave the health thing out of it or it can get overwhelming," Sears said, choking up a little as he watched the kids play. "But it's awesome to be out here, to see their faces light up. That's what it's all about."
Oldham said cancer and congenital heart disease were the most common illnesses among the HopeKids families, but many others were represented. Oldham became involved with the HopeKids organization, which tries to provide events that bring fun, excitement and hope to the families of kids with an uncertain future, after his daughter Abby passed away in December 2005 following 11/2 years of fighting a brain tumor.
"About a year after that, my wife and I kind of looked at each other and said, you know, a lot of what we're doing doesn't really seem to mean that much anymore," Oldham said. "We feel like we went through this experience for a reason, and we'd really like to do something to help families that have gone through what we went through."
In 2008, they moved to Utah and started a HopeKids chapter.
"We started with 30 families, and now there are 600," Oldham said. "We actually do 15 to 20 events a month, so 150 to 200 events per year."
Weber State linebacker Anthony Morales missed the last game of the 2012 football season after having an emergency appendectomy. He's healthy now and looking forward to his senior season, but working a camp for kids with life-threatening conditions put his brief medical scare into perspective, he said.
"I can't even imagine having to go through something at such a young age, but it's unbelievable being out here and seeing how strong these kids really are. They're out here doing their best and fighting the battle every day. I guess it makes you appreciate what you have, being healthy.
"Honestly, this is probably one of the best experiences I've had since being here (at Weber State). It's good to help them and see the smiles on their faces."
Three-year-old J.P. Gibson giggled as he passed the ball back and forth with Morales with surprising coordination and then lined up to get a running start to kick the ball.
"(J.P.) loves all sports," mom Megan Gibson said. "Football, baseball, basketball -- he's all boy."
The family traveled from Sugarhouse to participate Saturday.
"It gives them something fun," Megan said. "We always know what's coming up, and so we tell them what activity we're looking forward to, and he just can't wait. It's good motivation/bribery to behave. It's so much fun to come out here, and I knew he would love today especially because of how much he loves sports. We got here, and he wasn't really feeling it with the tour of the locker room, but we got on the field, and he just picked up the ball and warmed up to everybody. Look at him, he's just so happy."
Megan Gibson, wearing a black HopeKids T-shirt that said "Got hope?" on the back, said J.P. has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His treatment is expected to last until May 2015, about 31/2 years worth of treatments that may have unforeseen side effects later, "but I'd rather him be here than not," she said. "I'll do anything."
Saturday's camp was also helpful to her and her husband, Josh, she said.
"I love meeting other parents to see we're not alone in this," she said. "Our battles might be a little different, but our kids are always so happy and so good to show us the example of determination. You wouldn't even know (J.P.) has cancer. If it were me, I would be flat on my back on my couch all the time, but almost nobody even knows he has cancer. Which is kind of sad, that he thinks this is just how life is, but they're really resilient. It's amazing."
Six-year-old Lincoln Masuisui, 6, of Farr West, spent the very early morning hours of Saturday at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City with a high fever.
"When you have a high fever and you have lymphoma, you've got to get on antibiotics right away," said Lincoln's father, Brian Masuisui. "They were able to control it and get him back home and get him here to have some fun."
The decision to come to the camp was Lincoln's, Brian Masuisui said, and the little boy who said his favorite football team is the San Francisco 49ers was happily taking part in football drills alongside his brother.
Lincoln was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in November and also plans to complete his treatments by 2015, Brian Masuisui said.
"This is awesome," Brian said of WSU's HopeKids football camp. "It gives them a lot of boosts and puts a smile on their face at an event like this. ... He's out there running around. Lincoln's not going to stop."
NOTE: For more information on HopeKids, visit www.hopekids.org.