NEW ORLEANS — Students at Isidore Newman School, clad in jackets and ties, sweaters and skirts, craned their necks to catch a glimpse of New Orleans Saints hero Steve Gleason as he entered their school in his wheelchair Friday.
Gleason, who suffers from the debilitating effects of ALS, arrived at Newman to help announce a landmark partnership between Team Gleason, his charitable organization, and the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers support to U.S. soldiers who have lost limbs in battle.
With Newman grad Cooper Manning, brother of NFL stars Peyton and Eli, serving as emcee, representatives from Newman, both charities, NFL retirees and local businesses discussed how a team of Wounded Warrior vets will square off against a squad of Team Gleason supporters — including several current and former Saints such as Scott Fujita, Rickey Jackson, Willie Roaf and Morten Andersen — in a fundraising flag football game at Newman Jan. 30.
The majority of the proceeds from the game will go toward the funding of a state-of-the-art, assisted-living home for ALS patients at St. Margaret’s Daughters, located at the former Mercy Hospital in Mid-City. The facility will be the second of its kind in the world — the first is in Chelsea, Mass. — and will allow residents to live independently as they work to adjust to their situation. The high-tech facility will be stocked with equipment that residents can operate with their eyes, Gleason said.
“They’ll be completely independent,” Gleason said. “They’ll also be able to be productive regardless of how they move in their physical body.”
Gleason received a rousing ovation from the crowd after he spoke.
Team Gleason hopes to contribute $1 million to the planned, $25-million facility, including most of the revenue generated by Jan. 30’s flag football game, which will take place a few days before New Orleans hosts Super Bowl XLVII.
Two Wounded Warriors, Matt Kinsey and Saul Bosquez, attended Friday’s briefing at Newman. Both Army veterans who each lost a leg in battle, Kinsey and Bosquez will be on the Wounded Warrior roster for the Jan. 30 game. The Wounded Warrior project currently fields a softball team, but Kinsey noted with humor that flag football will be new athletic territory for them. But, he added, anything for a good cause like ALS support.
“It’s important for us to give back, and being here is one way to give back,” Kinsey said. “We’re fortunate enough that our athletic careers got sprung again with softball, and now we get to try football,” he added with a grin. “I don’t know how that will work out, but we’ll have a good time.”
The comment elicited laughs from the dozens of attendees. There was a fair amount of humor and relaxed banter Friday. Manning quipped, according to his faulty memory, he was his class valedictorian at Newman, and he poked fun at Ronnie Lamarque of Lamarque Ford in Kenner after the car dealer arrived late to the news conference.
The Ford dealership is donating $20,000 toward the Wounded Warrior-Team Gleason game, a fact that was advertised by an oversized check propped up behind the speakers’ table.
“It’s all about a great cause, it’s about ALS, it’s about Newman, it’s about Mr. Gleason,” Lamarque said. “The week before the Super Bowl, Newman is going to pop. We’re going to show it to people all over this country. It’s going to be magnificent.”
But the gathering was also replete with humility, as Lamarque, Manning and others thanked both Gleason and the Wounded Warriors for their service to the community, especially in New Orleans.
“I’m very, very honored to be a small part of this,” Lamarque said.
Gleason and the two Army events even spoke humbly of each other. Kinsey said he, Bosquez and other Wounded Warriors are honored to be involved with Team Gleason.
“Thank you for what you are doing for your charity, and thank you to Steve Gleason and what he’s fighting,” Kinsey said.
But Gleason deflected the compliment right back to the soldiers.
“I’m most grateful to the veterans and people for putting their lives on the line for us and for what we all have,” Gleason said. “It’s so awesome what they have done. Thank you, guys, you are true heroes.”