Friday, November 10, 2006

Wisconsin Sig Eps Ride for Charity

Frat to Deliver Tour de Force Performance
by Darryl Schnell
Friday, November 10, 2006
Most University of Wisconsin students attending the battle for the Heartland Trophy this Saturday in Iowa City will probably not leave until this afternoon. However, for several members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, it was necessary to leave Thursday evening. After all, they’re pedaling.

For the 15th year in a row, the fraternity is riding bikes for a good cause. The “Tour de Touchdown” is an annual effort to raise money for the UW Children’s Hospital.

Sigma Phi Epsilon is responsible for delivering the game ball to the Badgers’ head coach for one football game a year. This year, the fraternity chose to bring the game ball to Bret Bielema before UW’s clash with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

UW senior Mark Thomson, who is one of the cyclists for the tour, said the event sets the fraternity apart from most others at UW.

“A lot of houses on campus do philanthropy, but this is really one of the most special ones because of the size of it and because of the spirit that goes into it,” Thomson said. “The house gets very incredibly excited about it; we take a tremendous amount of pride in it. It helps showcase one of the best attributes of the Greek community.”

According to UW senior Aaron Kutnick, who is also touring on bike, the fraternity set a goal to raise at least $15,000 for the hospital. As of Wednesday, the effort was ahead of schedule.

“Riding the bike kind of represents all the things you’ve accomplished in this effort,” Kutnick said. “We’ve worked so hard for these kids, and then when they show up at the house, it just kind of makes it all worth it.”

Kids from the UW Children’s Hospital showed up at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on Thursday afternoon to be present at the kickoff of the ride. They were greeted by members of the fraternity, members of the Madison Fire Department and Bucky Badger himself.

Shy at first, the children began to smile as members of the fraternity and firefighters began to toss beanbags around with them. Kutnick said this type of response from the kids is typical.

“In the beginning the kids are usually pretty nervous,” he said. “But then when you get to talk to them, they kind of open up and have a good time.”

According to Janice Ferguson, a child-life specialist at the UW Children’s Hospital, the Tour de Touchdown effort not only puts a smile on the kids’ faces, it also serves to improve their experience at the hospital.

“It’s really exciting to get student groups involved,” Ferguson said. “The money they raise goes to things like play rooms, activities, birthday celebrations for the kids and even things like computers for some of the older kids. The money raised here helps to make the hospital more of a normal place for the people staying there.”

To raise the money, the fraternity has done four door-to-door neighborhood sessions, asking for donations. Thomson said he is also keen on getting a lot of help from the student body.

“I know students aren’t necessarily rolling in money,” he said. “But the thing is, if enough students contribute what little they can spare, it all adds up and can make a huge difference.”

Because the fraternity funds the trip itself, 100 percent of the donations made to the UW Children’s Hospital for the Tour de Touchdown go directly to the cause. Thomson estimated the ride would take about 17 to 18 hours by bicycle, and that participants would rotate their time cycling with others riding in the caravan of cars behind so cyclists would have a chance to rest.

While making the long ride to Iowa City and handing the game ball to Bielema will be a rewarding experience, Thomson emphasized he’s mostly looking forward to seeing the smiles on the kids faces as he presents the hospital with an oversized check.