CINCINNATI - Eight-year-old Jack Schuermann, battling cancer for a year, brightened at the sight of his new hat - signed by Reds star Ken Griffey Jr.
"Go, Reds," he said, raising a thin arm tied to an IV line after putting the Cincinnati baseball cap on his head.
Jack is among hundreds of children with cancer receiving ball caps gathered by the Association of Luxury Suite Directors in an effort dubbed "Lids for Kids." Pat McCaffrey, president of the trade association for the premium sports seating industry and also the Cincinnati Reds' season ticket director, helped organize the program as the group's charity focus for this year.
Besides autographed Reds hat, the more than 500 caps included a hat signed by all the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders, a Churchill Downs hat signed by several jockeys and caps from hundreds of sports teams.
"These kids have a lot on their minds," says Dr. Franklin Smith, the director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "It gives them a moment of happiness, of distraction. It shows them people care about them."
McCaffrey said the association likely will continue the program each year and add hospitals in other cities.
"It's something that was priceless," he said. "It was a great experience for us, to help make at least one day happier."
McCaffrey recently made the rounds giving out caps in the hematology/oncology unit at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. On any given day, 40 to 50 children are in bed there, being treated for cancer, including toddlers with rooms decorated with Sesame Street characters and crayon pictures of sunshine and blue sky. Another 80 to 100 visit the outpatient clinic daily.
The caps have extra meaning for children who have lost their hair because of chemotherapy, such as Samantha Morrissey.
She was a seventh-grader at St. Ignatius school in Cincinnati, cheerleading and playing softball, when she discovered a cancerous cyst on the back of her leg in late May. Since then, she has been at Children's Hospital nearly every day.
"We've seen so much love, so much support. It truly fills you with hope and strength," said her mother, Angela Morrissey.
Samantha expects to be done with her treatments in time for eighth-grade graduation.
"My hair should be growing back by then," she said.