New Hampshire’s finest high school football players took to Grappone Stadium on Saturday in the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock All Star Game.
The game, a last hurrah for graduating seniors, is a way for New Hampshire youth to give back. In its three year history, the contest between the best players representing the east and west regions of the state has raised $752,000 for the hospital, said Nick Vailas, the founder of the game.
“My personal mission is to teach young men that being a gifted athlete isn’t just about their own efforts because they’ve all been blessed with good health,” Vailas said.
In March, the players visited the children at the hospital, where they played games with patients and toured the Pediatric and Nursing Intensive Care Units. Vailas said that the annual trip to the hospital teaches the players perspective and humility
"I hope they get the message that it’s not all about them,” he said.
By all accounts, Brad Rhoades is the kind of young man Vailas had in mind when he started the game three years ago.
“Every day I walk onto the field it’s a blessing,” says Rhoades, a cornerback from Trinity High School. “People were there for me during my hard times, and I want to be there for these kids. This game is all about the kids.”
Rhoades has been through his fair share of hardship.
In 2011, when he was 14, Rhoades lost his mother. Kristen Rhoades was 46 at the time when she was killed in a freak snowmobiling accident. Two days later, Brad, a member of Pembroke Academy’s junior varsity basketball team, decided to play in his scheduled game.
At halftime, Rhoades had 27 points.
“At half I walked in and told the guys I wanted 46 points,” says Rhoades. “46 points for 46 years. I can’t thank my teammates enough for making that happen for me.”
To a standing ovation, Rhoades scored his 46th point with two minutes remaining in the game. Relieved and tearful, he ran straight into his father’s arms, an embrace neither of them will forget.
On Saturday, in the heat of the June sun, Rhoades and 84 other players took the field. More than 1,650 fans came to support the athletes in their last game.
Competition was tough, but in the end, the West All Stars defeated the East 24-7. Rhoades finished with two tackles and an interception in the win.
“Every day I just want to make my mom proud," he said. "I know she’s up there watching over me, and I want her to see that all this hard work is paying off.”
On Friday, June 27th, Rhoades was awarded the Dan Duval Community Service Award, an award his mother would surely be proud of.