Jefferson Wakefield is a Brigham Young University sports fan. It doesn’t matter what sport – football, basketball, soccer – he loves watching them all. So when the 15-year-old Grand County High School student was chosen as one of the Brigham Young University Cougars’ “Thursday’s Heroes,” he says it was like a dream come true.
Thursday’s Heroes was started in 2006 by the Holly and Bronco Mendenhall Foundation.
“The purpose of this program was to honor children and families who were facing significant life challenges,” according to the program’s website. Since its inception, approximately 90 Thursday’s Heroes have been chosen.
Jefferson’s mother, Gail Wakefield, said the family learned of the program a year ago from her son’s speech therapist. Jefferson, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, was nominated for the program and chosen to attend one of the Cougar’s practices in August. Unfortunately, the original August date didn’t work out.
“The team was so battered and bruised they took that week off,” Gail Wakefield said. Instead, Jefferson’s visit was rescheduled for late October.
“Jefferson started counting down the weeks and days,” his father, Gery Wakefield wrote in a blog post about the visit. “He would constantly remind us, every time we looked at the calendar for other family events, that [it] was a sacred and holy day.”
The family headed to Provo, a trip that they’ve made quite often since they attend every one of the football team’s home games. Once there, Jefferson and his family were taken on a tour of the football offices at BYU. “Jefferson got to sit in coach Mendenhall’s chair,” Gail Wakefield said.
The family was then taken down to the team’s locker room. On the way down, the stairs were lined with pictures of all the past Thursday’s Heroes. Jefferson’s picture will be added to the wall.
Jefferson was impressed to see that each player had four or five pairs of shoes.
After finishing their tour of the locker room, it was time for Jefferson and his family to watch the players practice. Gail Wakefield said they were allowed to watch from the field for 10 to 15 minutes before the practice ended. Then all of the players came over to the family to introduce themselves and shake hands.
“One hundred players just converged on us,” Gail Wakefield said. “It was a little overwhelming, but Jefferson couldn’t stop smiling.”
Meeting the players was also a chance for Jefferson to meet Austen Jorgensen, a BYU player, whom Jefferson has been writing to as a pen-pal for the last two years.
“Cody Hoffman took off his gloves and handed them to [Jefferson],” Gail Wakefield said.
The players presented Jefferson with a backpack full of memorabilia, including stickers, a water bottle and more. He also received a football signed by Mendenhall and a BYU flag signed by all of the players. Jefferson was also given the opportunity to sign the flag that the team carries into the stadium for each game.
“They were incredibly hospitable and kind,” Gail Wakefield said. “They chatted with Jefferson and took pictures with him. The whole thing was just amazing.”
Jefferson said it was hard to pick one part of the experience that really stood out from the rest. He eventually decided that meeting all the players, though overwhelming, was the best part of the day.
For the Wakefield family, Jefferson’s trip to BYU is an experience they say they will never forget.