Andy Hoffman and Bo Pelini flank Jack Hoffman at the First Team Jack Gala.
By Randy York
The first annual Team Jack Gala Saturday night at Lincoln’s downtown Cornhusker Hotel was more than just a night to inspire. For a sold-out crowd of 700 who attended the Lincoln fundraiser to support pediatric brain cancer research, it also was a night to educate and to motivate.
"That was our No. 1 goal, more than anything else," said Andy Hoffman, the father of Jack Hoffman, the pediatric brain cancer patient who has become a catalyst for a grassroots movement that has committed $1.1 million to specific research investments that will benefit children who have the deadly disease.
Even though it was an inaugural event for Honorary Co-Chairs Bo and Mary Pat Pelini, and Jack Hoffman, the gala was so well orchestrated, it seemed like an event that has been a staple for years. The program went off like clockwork and ended with a number of standing ovations, including one for featured speaker Rex Burkhead before he was even introduced, then another standing ovation after he spoke. Coach Pelini also received two standing ovations: first when he was introduced as an honorary chair; and then again after he shared his feelings on Team Jack. Both Jack and Andy Hoffman also received a standing ovation, and so did the families who live with the disease daily and joined together at the end to show their appreciation for Team Jack’s leadership role in supporting the cause.
The Goal: Get Money to World’s Best Researchers
"Our goal is simple," Andy Hoffman said. "We want to raise as much money as we can, and get that money into the hands of the best researchers in the world."
Three of the gala’s speakers provided insight into that goal: Dr. Don Coulter, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Cancer Center; Dr. Kari Galyen, an internal medicine/family practice doctor and member of the Team Jack Foundation Board of Directors; and Dr. Liliana C. Gooumnerova, director of clinical pediatric neurosurgical oncology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
The Hoffmans have developed a close relationship with all three speakers, who received their own spirited levels of appreciation from an enthusiastic crowd after learning more about the disease. “Thanks for helping us make a real impact in the lives of children,” Andy said. “We’re inspired to do even more in 2014, and we’re not letting up.” The banquet also featured several heartfelt videos that chronicled the beginning of Jack’s relationship with Burkhead and how that initial meeting, followed by a footrace at Memorial Stadium, became a full-fledged relationship.
Burkhead, Zimmerer Are Rare Disease Honorees
Jack’s friendship with Rex led to a number of milestones that increased the national awareness of pediatric brain cancer. One was Burkhead’s national Rare Disease Champion’s Award from the Pennsylvania-based Uplifting Athletes organization – the same award that recently graduated Husker fullback C.J. Zimmerer will receive next weekend at the annual Maxwell Awards Banquet in Atlantic City. Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer helped Nebraska launch its own chapter of Uplifting Athletes, and Coach Pelini and Burkhead made sure that Saturday night’s gala audience understood Zimmer’s leadership role and appreciated his commitment to the overall cause.
Zimmerer was among the “All-Stars” who closed the event, joining children battling pediatric brain cancer and their families on stage, along with former Huskers Burkhead, Jared Crick, Eric Crouch, Matt Davison, Quincy Enunwa, Alex Henery, Jemarcus Hardrick, Lindsey Moore and Andrew Rodriquez. Nebraska native Danny Woodhead, now a running back for the San Diego Chargers, gave the invocation and discussed the All-Stars’ support for Team Jack and pediatric brain cancer.
Nebraska graduate and ESPN commentator Shelley Smith emceed the gala and kept it moving at a professional level. The event included 96 silent auction items and 65 super silent auction items. After the evening’s program, bidding began for 14 live auction items that included a Tom Osborne commemorative rifle, a guitar signed by Nebraska’s three Heisman Trophy winners, a Rose Bowl trip, a personal call from the voice of Mater in the Disney movie Cars and a Larry the Cable Guy Party Package, which includes 10 front-row seats to his April 25th show at Pinnacle Bank Arena that will benefit Team Jack.
Hoffman Wants to Change Prognosis for All Children
Jack has won an ESPY Award, experienced a Spring Game record touchdown run and was invited to the White House with his family and his buddy Rex. But his dad reminds everyone what the overarching goal of Team Jack is. “We are resolute in changing Jack’s prognosis through additional research,” Andy said, “but more importantly, we want to change the prognosis of other children suffering from pediatric brain cancer and others who have yet to be diagnosed.”
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