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UNG leads Division II in Make-A-Wish fundraising and grants ninth wish

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UNG granted a wish for Katie, a 9-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, through Make-A-Wish. UNG led NCAA Division II in 2019-20 with $13,800 raised for Make-A-Wish.

For the fifth straight year, the University of North Georgia (UNG) Athletics Department led NCAA Division II in Make-A-Wish fundraising by generating $13,800 for the foundation in 2019-20, the NCAA national office announced Oct. 28.

Less than three weeks later, UNG granted a wish for the ninth straight year. UNG welcomed Katie, a fourth-grader from nearby Gainesville, Georgia, to the Nighthawk Nation.

Katie, 9, has been battling leukemia. She is on track to "ring the bell" to signify the end of her chemotherapy treatments in March 2021.

UNG Director of Athletics Lindsay Reeves and Nigel the Nighthawk surprised Katie with a home visit Nov. 15. Reeves delivered the news that Make-a-Wish Georgia would soon deliver Katie's wish of a pink princess playhouse, giving her a private sanctuary to call her own.

In addition, a socially distant 31-car parade of UNG student-athletes and staff cruised by to congratulate Katie. Patrol cars from the Gainesville Police and UNG Police departments escorted the parade that concluded with Katie receiving a trunk full of gifts of her favorite toys and decorations for the new playhouse.

UNG hopes to invite Katie and her family to UNG's Dahlonega Campus for a spring home event where she will be honored as an official teammate for the day.

"The NCAA Division II Make-A-Wish initiative is another way for our student-athletes to use the teamwork skills they learn in competition and apply them to granting life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses," Reeves said. "Even during the pandemic, our student-athletes were committed to the importance of giving back to the community and raising enough money to grant a local child a wish. This is a true testament to the quality and integrity of our student-athletes. I couldn't be more proud of them."

For 2019-20, Division II schools raised more than $205,000 as part of their ongoing partnership with Make-A-Wish. Since 2003, Division II schools have donated more than $6.4 million and granted more than 760 wishes. 

As a result of the Nighthawk Nation's efforts, UNG was one of eight institutions to grant a wish and one of three schools to raise more than $10,000, the average cost of granting a wish. UNG's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) leads its Make-A-Wish efforts.

Nigel's Run with Superheroes, converted to #NIGELSVIRTUALWALK, raised almost $5,200 to help UNG clear its goal of $10,000 for the year.

"The rewarding part is not that UNG is on the leaderboard, but that UNG once again made a wish become reality," said Kara Groover, a senior from Newnan, Georgia, pursuing a degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science. Groover is president of UNG SAAC for 2020-21. "We take pride in doing our best to one-up the Make-a-Wish from the previous year. Hopefully, we can continue this streak and continue to make wishes and dreams come true."

Division II SAAC continues to use an allocation model that was adopted five years ago, which allows money from Division II championships and enforcement fines to supplement institutional fundraising to help schools host a wish reveal celebration on their campus.

During the 2019-20 year, three schools — UNG, Grand Valley State University and Gannon University — raised at least $10,000, which is the average cost of granting a wish. Those three schools automatically earned a wish reveal celebration. Five other schools earned wish reveals through the supplemental funds based on the allocation model. 

The Peach Belt Conference raised the second most by a conference in the nation, trailing only the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, which donated the most money for the sixth straight year.

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