20th Annual Tom Brady Best Buddies Football Challenge Lights Up Harvard Stadium
There was a time when Jennifer Carter of Stratham, New Hampshire didn’t know if her son Aidan would see his tenth birthday. On Friday, May 31st Aidan was catching a touchdown pass from Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady in the 20th Annual Tom Brady Best Buddies Football Challenge at Harvard Stadium.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity,” Carter said. “Aidan has a very rare disorder called Hunter Syndrome and when he was diagnosed at one and a half, we didn’t think he would ever be able to run or walk.”
Hunter Syndrome, also called mucopolysaccharidosis II or MPS II, is a rare disease that mostly affects boys and can cause organ enlargement, heart defects, joint pain, and hearing loss. Aidan wears a green hearing aid in each ear.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver founded Best Buddies International in 1989 to promote close friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Best Buddies now reaches across all six continents, 54 countries, and 50 states and impacts more than 1.25 million individuals, individuals like Aidan.
For the past twenty years, Best Buddies and global ambassador Brady has held the flag-football game where athletes with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities can catch a pass from the six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and compete with his teammates, other celebrity ambassadors, and members of the media.
“For him to be out here, catching a pass from Tom Brady is beyond our wildest dreams,” Carter said. “We didn’t even know if he’d make it to the age of ten so we’re so grateful and so proud of him and he deserves it. This is his first year playing and he scored a touch down.”
Participants were split into two teams named after sponsors: team Pepsi wore navy blue Polo shirts and team Shaws wore off-white Polo shirts. Several current and former New England Patriots players were divided among the two squads, including Julian Edelman, James White, Dan Koppen, Marcus Cannon, Brian Hoyer, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Joe Cardona, Troy Brown, and Christian Fauria. Other recognizable faces at the event included Patriots offensive line coach and assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia, actor Michael Chiklis, and restaurateur Guy Fieri.
Governor Charlie Baker played for team Shaws. After catching two touchdowns and an extra point from Brady, the governor expressed his admiration for how Best Buddies fosters a sense of community and provides job opportunities.
“All the fans who are here are connected in one way or another, the developmental disability community, there’s a ton of moms and dads and brothers and sisters, and, out on the field you’ve got all these kids - who literally think about this as their Super Bowl - and I see the same kids every year and I come back and they’re all fired up and excited about it and it’s just a great event,” Baker said. “By the way, there’s also a ton of companies here that aren’t just financial supporters, they also hire a lot of these kids and these kids get jobs and mentors and all of the stuff that all of us want.”
Kathy DiRusso started as a volunteer in 2004 and walked away from her 30-year-profession to become the deputy director of jobs operations at Best Buddies in 2015. She reiterated the efforts to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find work.
“It’s a wonderful organization. We were put on the planet to take care of each other and the participants have incredible abilities. The jobs program is just amazing,” DiRusso said. “Even when companies have preconceived notions of what it means to hire a person with an intellectual or developmental disability - and then a year later they want to hire another and another because they’re dedicated employees - they’re hardworking, they live right in the community, and for many companies it’s the answer to their unemployment [problem]. And you won’t have a person from the jobs program call in sick or [arrive] late for work, they’re so grateful to have a job and be a part of the community like everybody is. That’s all they want.”
Kick-off for the game was at 6:00 PM with the final whistle coming at 8:15 PM. Brady served as designated quarterback for both teams, with team Pepsi edging out the 74-72 victory after a walk-off touchdown pass at the end of regulation. On Saturday, June 1st registered participants cycled, ran, and walked during the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port.
Despite the fact that Aidan and his Shaws teammates came up short on the scoreboard, just playing in the game, being named MVP, and becoming Brady’s favorite target was a win in of itself. When asked how it felt to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, he was at a loss for words.
“Awesome,” he said. “There’s no other way I can put it. I’m speechless.”
You can find out more about Aidan and his cause at www.actionforaidan.org .