By Cody Soto
When No. 12 Baylor football goes onto the field at McLane Stadium on Saturday, they will play for several reasons: to win another Big 12 conference game, to stay in the College Playoff race and for Midway High School junior Jacoby Burks.
Burks has cerebral palsy, a rare disorder that affects body movements and muscle coordination. Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movement, and there is no cure.
In an effort to raise awareness and funds for cerebral palsy research, the Baylor chapter of Uplifting Athletes will hold its inaugural Touchdown Pledge Drive on Saturday in McLane Stadium.
Fans can donate to the cause by pledging an amount of money per touchdown made by the Bears or give a one-time donation.
“The ability to raise awareness and money for people like Jacoby Burks and his family who are affected by cerebral palsy puts something on top of all the motivation to score in the game,” senior defensive back Collin Brence said. “We are excited for this game for that specific reason. It’s going to be a fun experience and opportunity.”
Chapter president and senior receiver Levi Norwood said he is excited the Burks family will be a part of this big event. Norwood has been building a relationship with Jacoby Burks for about three years prior to the start of Baylor’s Uplifting Athletes chapter.
“It’s a blessing knowing that Jacoby and his family are supporting us and going to our games, and in return, we want to do the same for them,” Norwood said. “We definitely play a lot harder knowing that.”
Uplifting Athletes is a national non-profit organization that brings college football teams together to combat the rare diseases. With many research efforts being directed toward more common illnesses, Uplifting Athletes sheds light on many often overlooked diseases. The Baylor chapter introduced to campus last year is giving football players the opportunity to make a difference both at a local and national level. Norwood brought the chapter to Waco after watching his father and brother start the first Uplifting Athletes chapter at Penn State.
Baylor is the only college in the Big 12 conference and in Texas with a chapter of Uplifting Athletes.
“If you look at other schools, they’ve been able to raise a lot of money and awareness for these rare diseases, and it’s the same thing for us,” Norwood said. “We are trying to raise awareness about people who have these diseases and would love to play and watch sports, but their body won’t let them.”
The Touchdown Pledge Drive is the second fund raising event by the Bears’ Uplifting Athletes chapter. The first event was held on July 17 when the Bears participated in its first Lift for Life fund raiser.
The players had fans pledge donations per pound that the team lifted and accumulated more than $3,100 towards cerebral palsy research.
With the previous success, senior offensive tackle Spencer Drango said Saturday’s touchdown drive will be even better than their first event with a goal of $10,000.
“Being a first year chapter is always tough, but I think that our Lift for Life fund raiser was outstanding in our fund raising efforts,” Drango said. “The Touchdown Pledge Drive is another way to get out there and help the community using our platform as student-athletes.”
Baylor looks to use its national prominence to make a difference not only in Jacoby Burks’s life, but the lives of all kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“It will be tremendously beneficial for their chapter to be able to use this national spotlight for awareness,” chapter manager Becky Mayes said. “This means something to them, and being a Top 20 team helps them spread awareness and raise money for the cause. A lot of work is involved, but it will let them shine off the field.”
Jacoby’s mother Latricia Burks said she loves the relationship between her son and the team, and Jacoby’s interaction with the Bears gives him even more excitement in his life.
“As the years have passed, Levi [Norwood] made sure Jacoby came to games and practices on the field,” Latricia Burks said. “Jacoby loves Levi. Every time I tell him we’re going to see him and the rest of the team, he gets so excited. It’s amazing to see that.”
The touchdown drive on Saturday might bring a few tears to Latricia Burks’s eyes as she sees the football team playing for kids like Jacoby who are living with cerebral palsy.
“It gives me chills knowing Levi and the Bears care so much about kids who suffer from cerebral palsy,” she said. “This experience has reminded me that someone is there to help care for people who have this disability. I am thankful for Levi and the Baylor Bears football team for doing an outstanding job and putting toward every effort. I pray that it’s a great success.”
With this event underway, Baylor football players will take a step into another spotlight that touches each of the players, and Jacoby Burks is the reason for that, Brence said.
“Jacoby is a kid who you can see the happiness, joy and constant attitude of never giving up in his eyes,” Brence said. “Just to see how excited he gets when he was around all of us really makes all of the players excited to see him there with our team.”
No. 12 Baylor football will play at home for the first time in two weeks, and the Touchdown Pledge Drive is the team’s motivation to make a huge impact.
“We think we’re fighting every day in practice and things are tough, but when you look at kids with cerebral palsy who are fighting every single day, it really puts things into perspective and makes you realize how blessed you are to be here,” Brence said. “There’s a lot more responsibility in being a student-athlete than just going out there and playing. To have this chance to give back to kids like Jacoby makes us extremely fortunate. They are the true inspiration.”
Donations will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Fans can donate to the Touchdown Pledge Drive at www.pldgit.com.