Game for their lives

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2007

TAMPA - Their lives all froze the instant they were told their children had cancer. Each parent has the date seared in memory, the day everything around them stopped and the "C" word invaded their lives. "Your whole family becomes kind of uprooted, you're all in emergency mode," said Nicole Dumke, whose daughter, Taylor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 7. "It's such a horrible time." But each of these five families has a happy memory of that dark period, when people united to raise their spirits, if only for one evening. That's the night Tampa firefighters and Tampa police face off in a friendly game of flag football to raise money for a child stricken with the illness.

The first Badge Bowl took place in 2002 on the fields of Wesley Chapel High School where about 700 people showed up and raised about $8,000.

It honored Taylor, a cheerleader for the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association. Tampa firefighter Michael Pease, a coach in the league at the time, said the league wanted to rally behind Taylor's family.

The event was so popular, organizers created a nonprofit group, the Foundation of Courage, to take over the Badge Bowl. It's now in its sixth year.

Last year, about 2,500 people came, and more than $40,000 was raised, said Pease, the foundation's president Pease is the son of a St. Petersburg Times photographer.

The money is divided three ways: 50 percent directly to the chosen family; 25 percent to the foundation, which helps other families through the year; and the remainder to the Children's Cancer Center in South Tampa, which recommends families to consider.

This year's beneficiary is 4-year-old Brooke Martin, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Brooke was diagnosed on Jan. 17, 2006.

Badge Bowl I (2002) Taylor Dumke

Recipient: Taylor Dumke, then 7, who had medulloblastoma (a brain tumor).

Amount raised: $8,000.

How the money helped: The inaugural event was a morale booster for the Dumke family. It was financially stable, so the Dumkes gave their money to two local families whose children were undergoing experimental treatments. Taylor's mom, Nicole, described the night of the Badge Bowl as "one of the most memorable moments in my life, being touched by the goodness of other people and the caring of other people."

The rest of the story: Taylor is 12 and in seventh grade at Weightman Middle School in Pasco. She had 18 months of chemotherapy, followed by 31 days of radiation. Her motor skills, coordination, speech and digestive balance will be lifelong issues. She relies on a wheelchair. In July, Taylor celebrated five years being cancer-free.

Badge Bowl II (2003) Daniel Frydrych

Recipient: Daniel Frydrych, then 9, who had medullablastoma.

Amount raised: $15,000.

How the money helped: Daniel's mother, Holley Wade, works for Hillsborough County and his stepfather, Bill Wade, for the Tampa Fire Department. They were there for the first Badge Bowl in honor of Taylor Dumke. "I was standing on the sidelines, watching (Nicole Dumke) with a very sick child and thinking, 'My God, how this woman ever got out of bed ...'" Holley Wade recalled. "That following year, that woman was me. It was so surreal." Eight months after Taylor was honored, Daniel was diagnosed. The night of the second Badge Bowl "there were all of these people at the game, helping support (Daniel) so that he could get better," Wade said. "He was the center of the world." The money helped with co-payments and experimental drugs that insurance didn't cover. "It allowed us to not have to panic," Wade said.

The rest of the story: Daniel attended two more Badge Bowls before he died in February 2006. "It's such an uplifting event, as strange as it sounds," Wade said. "It's about making a memorable event for a child and helping out a family."

Badge Bowl III (2004) Desirae Bravo.

Recipient: Desirae Bravo, then 6, who had leukemia.

Amount raised: $21,000.

How the money helped: Desirae was diagnosed at 18 months old. Her mother, Tammy Alaniz, took a three-year leave from her job as a dietitian to focus on Desirae. "I struggled all that time," said Alaniz of Riverview. Her family helped, but the Badge Bowl money covered her mortgage and many other expenses for a year.

The rest of the story: Desirae died two weeks before the event, but the foundation never forgot her, Alaniz said. They paid for her funeral and helped Alaniz get back on her feet. In appreciation, Alaniz cooks a Mexican feast for firefighters at least once a year.

Badge Bowl IV (2005) James Davis

Recipient: James Davis, then 7, who had neuroblastoma.

Amount raised: $31,000.

How the money helped:A single mother of four, Genela Davis of East Tampa had to quit her job as a teacher's assistant. Four days a week for four years, they were at the hospital for treatment. "The money helped with all my bills, the medical bills, during Christmas," Davis said. "I had no money worries for a while. I was able to just care for James."

The rest of the story: After four years and four separate cancer diagnoses, James died in August 2006. The foundation also paid for his funeral. "The Badge Bowl was the highlight of his life," Davis said.

Badge Bowl V (2006) Jimmy Reichert

Recipient: Jimmy Reichert, then 7, who had leukemia.

Amount raised: $40,000.

How the money helped: The Seffner family of four had been living in a 600-square-foot mobile home in disrepair. "Sometimes, it was so bad, there was no food," said Jimmy's mother, Christy Reichert. Since then, Reichert said she has not had to worry about money. The foundation also found sponsors to give the family a new 1,400-square-foot home with appliances and furniture.

The rest of the story: Jimmy, now 8, has finished his chemotherapy and is in remission. He attends McDonald Elementary. "We can't wait to go this year," Reichert said.

Badge Bowl VI (2007) Brooke Martin

Tiffany and Daniel Martin had to sell their Plant City house after 4-year-old daughter Brooke was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Jan 17, 2006. They rent a home in Valrico and have had to rely on relatives to help financially. Tiffany was seven months pregnant with daughter Hailey when Brooke was diagnosed. Within the past year, Daniel got laid off, his wife took a job at Lowe's, and Daniel found work with Lazydays RVs. "We're just not able to get ahead," said Tiffany Martin. "You're just scraping by and borrowing. It's been hard."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

If you go

When: Badge Bowl VI takes place on Saturday. Gates will open for games, food and activities at 5 p.m. Game kickoff is 7 p.m.

Where: Wharton High School, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

What's there: Rock-climbing wall, bungee jumping, a bounce house, tug-of-war, face painting and a raffle. There will also be photo opportunities with Santa.