Arizona Cardinals team up with Mikey’s League for a day of fun

TEMPE — Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi made a new friend on Saturday, 23-year-old Jake Capstick.

Shortly after Ndubuisi, a Nigeria Cardinals rookie offensive lineman, met Capstick during a soccer skills camp for 40 Mikey’s League kids and young adults, he was pushing Capstick up and down the ground inside the Cardinals’ practice bubble. Even in one-on-one drills, when Ndubuisi helped Capstick run with the ball or defend another player, the two happily smiled and laughed to the cheers of the spectators.

And when there was a break from the nearly two hours of football and entertainment, Ndubuisi was right next to Capstick, chatting with him and inviting his teammates to show off their dance moves to the music of a live DJ. .

“I have a younger brother who is sick too,” Ndubuisi said. Capstick reminded Ndubuisi of his brother in Africa, and instantly a bond was built.

June 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Haggai Ndubuisi (69) and safety Tae Daley (48) hoist Brandon Fischer, 14, in celebration by catching the ball during a youth football camp at the Cardinals training ground.

Capstick deals with cerebral palsy. But he loves football and plays the flag version of it, and is often one of the first players chosen for teams because he can use a pool noodle in his lap to make tackles.

If the pool noodle hits the ball carrier, the ball carrier is forfeited.

The skills camp, in which players and attendees interacted with drills such as throwing and catching passes, covering passes and running on routes and an agility relay, was planned by Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck and Karl Bender, co-founder of the local Mikey’s League. The organization helps people with disabilities play sports in an inclusive environment, and what would normally have been a practice has been moved inside the Cardinals bubble with more atmosphere.

There was almost as much dancing as football. Luketa and a youngster did the Griddy, the popular youth dance routine after it was made famous by NFL players to celebrate touchdowns starting in 2020.

June 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Preston Pappas, 19, looks to pass the ball under pressure from Brandon Fischer, 14, and Kyle Lewis, 20, during a scrimmage during a youth football camp at the Cardinals' practice facility.

Bender’s younger brother, Mikey, suffered from cerebral palsy his entire life, but he did it bravely and never let it stop him from playing sports.

While Bender was deployed to Iraq, Mikey died at age 21. Bender was sent home to be with his family, and shortly after leaving an explosive device decimated his military unit.

“He saved my life,” Bender said. “If I was here, I wouldn’t be here. My mom would have buried two kids. And so I always felt very passionate about doing something in her memory.”

Bender said playing sports changed the way his brother saw life. “It wasn’t ‘He couldn’t’, it was ‘How can he’,” Bender said.

Mikey graduated from high school and went on to study web design at Mesa Community College, unhindered by his disability.

The Mikey’s League was founded to, according to its website, use sport as a vehicle to “challenge the limits placed on children with disabilities and allow them to inspire and teach us.”

June 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona Cardinals offensive linebacker Dennis Gardeck, 45, high-fives Kelly Rodeffer, 19, during a youth football camp at the Cardinals practice facility.

Gardeck said he’s made community involvement a part of his life since high school and his attitude is clearly having an effect on his teammates. Veteran linebacker Devon Kennard participated, as did a long list of rookies, including draft picks Keaontay Ingram, Christian Matthew, Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders, Lecitus Smith and Jesse Luketa.

One of the reasons for Kennard’s presence was his friendship with Gardeck. He sweated trying to cover wide receivers in this drill.

“Once I found out about Mikey’s League and what was going on there, it was a no-brainer for me. And you know, it’s a special group and to show them that you know their worth and that you really compete with them, have fun with them. I think it’s important…for me to be here and give these kids that experience and that opportunity,” Kennard said.

“You kind of get caught up in a rut, especially at the professional level (where) football kind of loses that enthusiasm and stuff, and being able to do things like this kind of ties you back into the game. essence of the sport,” said Gardeck. “And I think it’s great for all the young guys to come and experience that and feel like giving back.”

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June 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Participants gather for a group photo during a youth soccer camp at the Cardinals training center.

Invited to see Mikey’s League in action last year, Gardeck came to an event he didn’t intend to stay long, Bender said. Gardeck stayed for an hour and was excited to partner with the organization.

Getting attendees to the Cardinals facility before Saturday was delayed by COVID, but for Bender, the experience was more important than any money the Mikey’s League could receive.

“That’s what we’re aiming for. We want to bring him back. I feel like the Cardinals want to bring him back,” he said.

Contact Jose Romero at [email protected] Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM.

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