Watch above: The Edmonton Wildcats are playing with a purpose this season – to honour longtime general manager Al Park, who passed away in February from ALS. Quinn Phillips shows what four of the players are doing with him in mind.
EDMONTON — Four members of the Edmonton Wildcat Football Club are supporting the fight against ALS. On top of the team’s ice bucket challenge, these men are growing out their beards for a year.
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It began as a challenge for their amusement, but after the passing of the football team’s General Manger, Al Park, in February they decided to put the hairy mess on their face to action. Their attempt to raise funds for the ALS society is in memory of “Big Al” and anyone else who may be affected by the disease.
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Last year was offensive lineman, Spencer Dobko’s first year with the team. Dobko was welcomed by Al Park with open arms, and made him feel comfortable with his new squad.
“In the one year he made me feel like this was the right place to be, this was a home for me,” said Dobko. “I remember the first day of camp, I didn’t really know anyone and I was hanging out by myself. He came up, put his arm around me and started talking to me just like I was any other guy. It just made me feel welcomed.”
The guys shaved clean January 1, and it was a month and half later that Big Al passed away. Al’s passing was hard for the entire team. Fourth-year linebacker Brett Morrow said the team wants to win for him.
“It was really tough… It’s basically a family member, basically another dad to us,” said Morrow. “We’ve all been in for Big Al, we all talk about it on the field and everything.”
Their goal is $5,000; so far, the four teammates have raised $200. During the summer months, this is a hard challenge to go through. Sweat drips out of the beard during practice, it gets pulled in games, and overall, it’s a rough experience, they say. But Morrow reminds himself, he’s doing it for a reason.
“You get to come to the clubhouse and you see two or three other guys with big beards, you’re like alright, I can do it if they can do it,” said Morrow.
Darcy Park, head coach and son of Al Park is rewarded with the team’s actions. Regardless of what happens this season, he knows it’s great the guys are remembering him this way.
“It’s a special year and that’s what we want to say. There’s very few times where you get to play in honour of someone, regardless of wins or losses,” said Park.
“It’s how we’re carrying ourselves that I think is really important.”
In January of next year, the guys will be shaving off their beard. They will be organizing an event for everyone to take part in. Anyone can shave off a patch for $50, or donate $200, and wax off a patch of chest hair.
“It goes more to the character, that’s ultimately what he wanted,” said Park. “Going through the uncomfortable experience of having that beard, and playing football to raise awareness and raise money for it, it’s fabulous. That’s the ultimate tribute to him…for someone to start a fundraising campaign for him is the ultimate compliment.”
With files from Quinn Phillips, Global News