Wisconsin football: Badgers go bald to support cancer patients
MADISON, Wis. — Bart Houston got a haircut Friday and it was kind of a big deal.
It had been more than a year since his last one and the soon-to-be fifth-year senior quarterback for the Wisconsin football team was glad to be rid of the excess flow.
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The light brown shoulder-length locks disappeared in a hurry thanks in part to Jace Wolfe, who smiled broadly as he snipped five massive chunks of hair from Houston's head with a pair of scissors and hurled them to the ground.
In no time, Houston was sporting a buzz cut that left him thrilled even though the end result looked a bit untidy.
The free styling came during the third-annual Badgers Go Bald, an event designed to give Wisconsin student-athletes an opportunity to show support for patients at American Family Children's Hospital.
Jace Wolfe is one of those kids. He's 2 1/2 and was diagnosed in early December with an advanced form of cancer, one that produced a tumor on his lung and has required two major surgeries to date.
Jace is undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy, according to his mother, Michelle. A week-long series of radiation sessions ended not long before he and his family showed up at Camp Randall Stadium for the festivities.
Houston didn't know this. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped slightly as he processed the news.
"That's unbelievable," he said.
Houston was one of nine UW student-athletes — including the first two women — and one administrator who agreed to let the kids cut their hair.
Houston, Andrew Endicott, Matt Miller and Connor Udelhoven represented football; Andy Hamilton men's rowing; Rylan Lubeck wrestling; Ali Nageotte women's golf; and Rachel Fleddermann women's track and field.
Chris McIntosh, a UW associate athletic director, also took part.
Amid a luncheon buffet, families, media members and UW student-athletes watched as electric clippers buzzed and chunks of hair — black, blonde and sandy — fell to the floor.
"To be in a room with all these kids is pretty incredible," Udelhoven said.
"People think that as Badgers we're supposed to inspire little kids, but it's the exact opposite in this situation," Nageotte said.
Speaking of which, you should have seen Jace.
He arrived in a stroller with a multi-colored skull cap covering his bald head and a surgical mask covering most of his face. He looked tired as the assembled families were given a tour of the Student-Athlete Performance Center.
But things began to change when the group moved to the UW football locker room. Kids saw the players' lounge and were able to sit in locker stalls and were seen dancing to the sounds of music from the sound system.
At one point Jace slipped on the helmet belonging to Endicott, a kicker from Roseville, California. His 28-pound frame teetered under its weight, but managed to keep his balance and was smiling when it was pulled off his head.
From there it was out the players' tunnel to the Camp Randall turf where sunny skies and a warm breeze greeted the group. Along the way, Houston, from Dublin, California, grabbed a couple footballs for the parents and kids to throw around.
At one point Jace commandeered one of the footballs and, with onlookers cheering, tumbled into the end zone for a touchdown.
"Sometimes you just go through the motions and take it for granted," Houston said of all the amenities that surround him and his teammates.
"Running out on the field was never more exciting than watching them do it. They had just pure joy and it's fun to see."
Before Jace took part in cutting Houston's hair — he had help with the scissors, by the way — he participated in shearing Udelhovern's sandy blonde locks.
Udelhoven didn't know Jace's back story, either.
"I can't even fathom," he said after getting some of the details.
"He's got a grin on his face the whole time. He's having a blast."
Udelhoven, a long-snapper from St. Paul, Minnesota, paused for a moment as he looked around the room.
"It's very humbling," he said. "If they can bring energy like that — smiling and running around with the cards they were dealt — there's no reason why I should ever be down on anything."
Who got the most out of this get-together?
"I can't even fathom," Udelhoven said of Jace's condition. "He's got a grin on his face the whole time. He's having a blast."
"I'd say myself, just seeing all the kids' smiles and everything," Udelhoven said. "I feel pretty fortunate to be in the situation that I am to be able to do events like this. Giving our time is nothing."
Nageotte, from Cleveland, Ohio, said she took part in honor of a friend back home whose teenage son is battling brain cancer. It cost her 10 inches of wavy blonde hair.
"These kids are such an inspiration to all of us as athletes, to see what they go through and to go through the day with a big smile on their face," she said. "It says a lot about who they are as people and how they inspire us."
After each styling session was over, the newly coiffed posed for pictures with the children who manned the clippers. Jace beamed as he sat on Houston's lap.
"He has joy," Houston said. "He has joy in his heart and it pours out onto me and to us.
"Just watching him, everyone feels that joy and feels humbled."