A tasteful tattoo… Emmalynn Horne gives a young boy a temporary tattoo. She and her friends ran the table throughout the event.
A tasteful tattoo… Emmalynn Horne gives a young boy a temporary tattoo. She and her friends ran the table throughout the event.
Jillian Surla

Football game, fundraiser promote Spina Bifida awareness

revised October 19, 2023


by Jillian Surla, editor-in-chief

FAIRHOPE, Ala. — On October 13, hundreds of families gathered at the W.C. Majors Field football stadium for the rivalry game and fundraiser to raise Spina Bifida awareness. Spina Bifida is a condition where the spine does not form properly at birth.

The event, hosted by football coach Brett Horne and his wife Heather Horne, has taken place for ten years. It started as a small gathering of physicians, physical therapists and families, but became a fundraiser with proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.

“A lot of the families have a lot of medical needs or they just don’t get to get out and do things, so we thought ‘why not have an awareness event where the families can come and participate?’” Heather said. “But then we started adding the fundraiser part to it, so now we’re able to help families with medical needs that they can’t afford, like some of their MRIs or their equipment, wheelchairs, that kind of thing. So that was kind of why we started.”

Bowing heads… Ryan Smith prays for the event attendees and community. People swayed along with his moving and emotional speech. (Jillian Surla)

Once attendees walked into the field, Heather greeted them and gave them Spina Bifida awareness stickers. They were then able to walk around and converse with the families and doctors at the event. Kids sat at a table to get temporary tattoos.

“You know, it’s just a good time,” Brett said. “The kids enjoy it, the families enjoy it, and we’ve had people from all over the state come. We raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Alabama off the proceeds raised from tickets and donations and all that.”

At the event, some stalls offered raffle tickets, silent auction prizes, t-shirts or wristbands. People from all over Baldwin County bought items and donated thousands of dollars to the cause.

“Last year, we raised $5,500, and we had about one hundred families come out. Tonight I think we have about 180. We’re hoping to raise $10,000,” Heather said.

As of Oct. 18, the Spina Bifida game raised $10,500, which surpasses the amount the Horne family hoped for.

“There are an estimated 166,000 people in the United States living with Spina Bifida. It is a permanent paralyzing deficit that affects individuals neurologically,” Brett said. “However, the best part is how the community, school, administration, coaches, student body and so many come together to support a greater cause!”

Time to eat!… Attendees rush to get food made by the concessions. The main courses were hotdogs or hamburgers. (Jillian Surla)

Student Pastor Ryan Smith prayed with the attendees before they ate food the concessions prepared. Afterwards, the guests continued to hang out and talk, eventually strolling through the Pirate inflatable and taking a photo together.

“The community here just truly supports the giving of just donations and items and coming up and showing out and it’s just really amazing to see that,” Heather said. “And the families get to come together when we just stay so busy between therapy appointments and doctors appointments and it’s just nice to get together and have fun and be a part of this.”

Every year, a kid with Spina Bifida gets to be an honorary captain for the coin toss. This year, brothers Brooks and Tucker Bell tossed the coin together as co-captains.

“It was just special,” Brett said, “A lot of kids–it’s just, you’ll see tears from parents because those kids go through a lot and the families go through even more, but just to see the joyfulness from all these kids it’s a lot.”

Despite the constant worries of surgeries and complications, Brett said the event “puts joy in the kids’ lives.” That’s why they do it. Not only to raise money, but to instill sheer joy in the families who have Spina Bifida in their life.

“A famous saying is ‘Two steps forward, one step back,’” Brett said. “They go two steps forward, one step back, but the key is just going those two steps forward. That’s how we try to live. You’re gonna have troubles in life, but you just have to keep pushing forward because the alternative isn’t an option.”

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