As Real Salt Lake striker Sergio Cordova wheeled away to the northwest corner of the stadium to celebrate his opening goal against Minnesota United on Saturday, he probably expected to be showered in cheers.
Getting showered in teddy bears though? Let’s call it a happy surprise.
“It was very beautiful,” said Cordova. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but it was a very cool moment for the players on the field as well as everyone in the stadium.”
It wasn't an ordinary Saturday night in Sandy, Utah. Real Salt Lake was celebrating their Kick Childhood Cancer night, and this year the Club was determined to make the event one to remember.
From the Club’s front office to the fans in the stands, it took a group effort and a lot of planning to bring it all together for a good cause. In the end, over 3000 teddy bears were collected and will be donated to local charities including Best Seat in the House, Mascot Miracles Foundation, the American Cancer Society and more.
“I was proud that our fans showed up like they did,” said RSL’s Director of Community and Player Engagement, Kyle Schroeder.
“They showed that they care about our community and that they wanted to provide a bit of joy to the kids who are fighting these terrible diseases. It shows those kids that there’s a whole stadium full of people that have their back in this fight against cancer.”
Schroeder said that planning for the event started last December and then it slowly started coming together. One of the biggest challenges being keeping the surprise under wraps and under control.
“It was a great idea, but it's our job to think of every possible outcome and that includes good and bad and there were some sleepless nights leading up to the event,” said RSL VP of Marketing and Game Production, Tyler Gibbons.
“Just thinking about what if VAR interferes with the goal or maybe somebody throws something on the field besides a teddy bear, that stresses you out. But one of the things that we've been trying to do is not only connect with the community in different ways but bring the human element back to this club.
I believe in people and the people of Salt Lake City and Utah proved me right again, because it's a collection of wonderful human beings and they got behind this wonderful cause.”
The teddy bear toss was the icing on the cake of a variety of initiatives the Club did to bring awareness to childhood cancer.
It started with a trip to a local children’s hospital to visit the son of RSL Events & Concert Operations Manager, Alonso Sarinana and other young cancer patients.
“This was the first time we were able to get back into the hospital since before 2020 and the way all of the patients faces lit up when J-Glad and Tate walked in with the little Leo the Lion plushies and the little soccer balls was just so special,” said RSL Digital Director, Emma Kramer.
Then leading into the match against Minnesota, RSL invited 20 children who were either fighting cancer or had fought cancer to walk out with the players for the National Anthem. On matchday, the children were given a special pre-game locker room experience and paired with a RSL player to walk onto the field with.
When they got to their locker, they found a jersey waiting for them with the name of their matched player, and the jersey their player would be wearing onto the field with their name on it.
A special moment, for a special group of kids.
If you’re interested in purchasing your own RSL Kick Childhood Cancer kit that the team wore on Saturday, the RSL Team Store is selling them online and in store along with scarves and pins with proceeds of the sales going to local cancer charities.
Additionally, local cancer researchers and healthcare professionals were also given free tickets to watch RSL in one of their biggest games of the season as well as honoring the creator of the international symbol of childhood cancer awareness, the gold ribbon, as the RSL Season Ticket Member of the Match.
The match ended with RSL 3-0 victors against Minnesota, but the night was made memorable for so many other reasons.
“We've done a lot of cool things over the course of my time here,” said Gibbons. "This automatically goes right to the top of the list of all the wonderful stunts that we have pulled.
I definitely would've cried, but I was too exhausted from helping pick up all 3000 teddy bears on the field.”