Sports Grill contest raises $20K to aid Make- A- Wish

The first annual “Special Grilled Wings for Wishes” contest at multiple Sports Grill restaurants raised more than $20,000 in a wing-eating competition that granted wishes of four children battling life-threatening illnesses.

Through the Southern Florida Make-AWish Foundation, all seven restaurants in the chain participated by organizing, promoting and holding contests throughout May. Teams of four paid $50 per person entry fees to compete in a single elimination competition with winners receiving gift bags, T-shirts, special cups and trophy recognitions. Budweiser (Eagle Brands), Gordon Food Service and Sysco Foods donated food and supplies for the events. Those not participating in the contests purchased paper stars in $1 to $20 denominations, hung in each location.

“It’s extraordinary what they were able to produce,” said Richard Kelly, executive vice president for Brand Advancement and Chapter Operations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Usually first-year fundraisers start off very small, figure out what they did right or wrong, improve and in the second year, experience an explosion that Sports Grill experienced in the first year, a huge success.”

Make-A-Wish teamed with Sports Grill after two “Champions,” Gal Bensaadon and Brianj Excelbert, active Make-A-Wish contributors and supporters, dined at a South Florida Sports Grill to discuss how local businesses might support the foundation. Realizing the Grill might be an appropriate partner, they spoke to manager Fernando de la Madriz who brought the idea to Sports Grill co-owners Christine Marques, Eric Haas and Mike Anderson.

“As our first annual ‘Special Grilled Wings for Wishes’ fundraising drive, we want to ensure that this happens every year and grows bigger and bigger through more people joining in,” Marques said. “This could become very large.”

The restaurant recently held a celebration for McKenzie Bowling, 7, last of four children whose wishes were granted, at the Sports Grill’s newest location in Pembroke Pines. Diagnosed in April 2013 with Pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, McKenzie finished her last treatment on July 1, shortly before learning that her dream to go on a Disney “Princess Cruise” would become a reality through efforts of her child life specialists, Alyssa Jones and Samantha Utter of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, together with Robin Delaware and Joyce Stevenson, Make-A-Wish Granters,” both unpaid volunteers. All four helped McKenzie decide the wish she most wanted.’Sports Grill brought a real-life “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast to paint faces, make balloon animals and entertain at the celebration party.

“I was almost in tears when Make-AWish told me Sports Grill chose to sponsor McKenzie’s wish,” said McKenzie’s mother, Nataly Santana. “My heart just melted knowing that someone did all this for kids, choosing her from all of the wishes out there. She was jumping up and down when I told her and we’ve been excited about this day ever since.”

With the success of the inaugural partnership behind them, Sports Grill and Make-AWish intend to forge ahead to make even more kids happy in the next effort that all involved believe will be even more fruitful.

“We’ve been very blessed as a company,” Haas said. “Once word spreads about what we’re doing for the community and the difference it’s making, I think more and more people will support our efforts.”

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