Creating Memories and Celebrating a Legacy
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Some of them walked through the store grabbing hats and t-shirts for their parents, siblings or close friends. Others shyly took teddy bears or socks for themselves.
Over the course of two evenings this week, more than 40 youngsters from across South Florida filled every corner of the allCanes shop near the University of Miami campus to participate in the store’s 22nd annual Holiday Shopping Spree for Kids sponsored by Milam’s Market and held in conjunction with the Bryan Pata Foundation.
At the event, each child was given a $95 gift card and had the chance to shop for all the goodies they could collect in that amount with help from a series of Hurricanes “celebrity shoppers.”
The significance of each gift card? The amount is a tribute to the jersey number worn by late Hurricanes football player Bryan Pata, who passed away in 2006 just months before he planned to enter the NFL Draft.
Among those on-hand to help the little ones fill their shopping bags were Hurricanes women’s soccer coach Sarah Barnes, Miami baseball coach Gino DiMare, swim coach Andy Kershaw, women’s basketball coach Katie Meier and rowing coach James Mulcahy.
Several current and former Miami student-athletes were there too, including UM Sports Hall of Fame baseball player Jon Jay and former record-breaking receiver Ahmmon Richards. Also helping the young shoppers were Jessica Cristobal, the wife of Hurricanes head football coach Mario Cristobal, and Berta Mirabal, the wife of assistant head football coach and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal.
For each of them, the opportunity to help make a child smile was reason enough to participate.
“Being able to be a part of that, being a coach and being asked to come out here, it’s really nice,” DiMare said. “These kids all look up to a lot of our players and I’m just excited to be a part of it. Last year, I did it with a young man that had some disabilities and he was buying for his whole family and not for himself. I was overwhelmed. The challenges he was facing, you wouldn’t know it. He was just very mature, talking about his family and getting things for them.”
Added Hurricanes linebacker Corey Flagg, one of the current Hurricanes who joined the young shoppers on Wednesday, “Just to see their faces when they end up shopping…there’s so much stuff in there. They’re going to be like, ‘What to get?’ It’s always funny and fun…It means a lot. Kids have so much joy. To be able to put another smile on their face, it makes my day.”
While there was plenty of time to fill their shopping bags, enjoy dinner before going inside the store and spend time chatting with Miami’s coaches and student-athletes, Edwin Pata – Bryan Pata’s brother – also tried to ensure the children left with not only toys and clothes, but some inspiration, too.
“If we can just get Bryan’s legacy and his name to continue to be talked about and for him not to be forgotten about, [that’s] the goal for us,” said Pata, a recruiting director for the Hurricanes’ football program. “Every time we go, I [share] the same message – DASH, discipline, attitude, sacrifice and habits. I talk about the most important things, especially if you’re trying to be a student-athlete…Athletics, for us, it got Bryan to college. It got me through college. It got my other sibling through college. We try to correlate how important our academics are and [how] you can use that athletic tool to get to college…If you have a talent, use it…We use athletics and academics and try to merge them together. That’s how we created the foundation.”
The event, which has grown considerably in its 22 years, was funded by donations from allCanes shoppers and sponsors including the Pat Covelli Foundation, 324 Creative, Big Cheese, Crepemaker and Flanigan’s.
And both Pata, and Harry Rothwell, the general manager at allCanes, hope it will continue to grow, with more children from the Police Athletic League, the Boys & Girls Club and the Bryan Pata Foundation participating in future shopping sprees.
“It’s great seeing the UM community come together,” Rothwell said. “The kids meet a guy like Jon Jay or Sebastian the Ibis and their eyes get real big and they get excited…It’s the holidays. We want them to have a good time and if they have a good time, I have a great time.”
Said University Vice President and Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich, who also attended the event, “To be able to give back to the community in whatever ways we have the opportunity to do so is really gratifying…This is something that’s been going for a very, very long time and is really embedded in the DNA of the department. To be able to come here and look at it, see it in action, see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they get ready to walk in the door, it’s just phenomenal. It says a lot about the season that we’re in right now and it says a lot of things about our student-athletes and coaches, to be able to take some time to come out and do this.”