9th Annual Celebrity Softball Challenge Brings Out Legends Past and Present

Some of the most competitive athletes in the world were at Victory Field on Thursday night. There were Colts and Pacers and IndyCar racers. There were mascots and media people too.

The 9th annual Caroline Symmes Celebrity Softball Challenge benefits the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund, which grants wishes to children who suffer from life-threatening diseases. The event is named after Caroline Symmes, a Wish child who lost her battle to an aggressive form of cancer.

For the players, it’s not really about the game or even the trophy, but the fans come out to cheer them on just the same.

“It’s about Caroline. That’s how it started. But it certainly has trickled down and it’s had a big effect here, ” said J’Lynn Cooper with the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund. “It grows every year and the support we get from the Pacers and the Colts and the community itself is just amazing.”

“That’s more of a tribute to the city,” said former Colts linebacker Robert Mathis. “Everybody kind of jumped behind it, the Colts and Pacers, Fever, IndyCar, Miss Indiana, the local media – everybody. It’s a team thing.”

“It’s great because the Pacers and Colts, we’re in this thing together as far as building this community and building this city up. It’s great that we can come together and do something great for the city,” said Pacers forward Paul George.

Because when it comes to the kids, they’re all on the same team.

“Everybody thinks us pro athletes are tough and strong – but the kids, they’re fighting for their lives daily,” said defensive tackle T.Y. McGill. “They’re stronger than we are. We don’t even know what that feels like. It’s just a blessing to be able to come out and give back.”

Mathis has been involved with the event since it started. And even though he retired from football at the end of the season, he’ll never retire from helping kids.

“The kids, they pull the heartstrings,” he said. “Everybody knows that’s my soft spot, the kids. I’ve got five of my own. So, of course I love them. I love this city. I love what they did, adopting me. So, it’s about giving back.”

And many of his current and former teammates showed up to back him up.

“A lot of people look up to him,” said Colts safety Darius Butler. “To whom much is given, much is required. He gives a lot back and everybody knows Rob has a heart of gold. Just happy to help and support in any way I can.”

“The greatest thing about this is you’ve got Gary Brackett here, Jerrell Freeman is here. Antoine Bethea is here, one of my really good friends from back in the day. Then you’ve got a bunch of new guys on the team,” said former Colts punter Pat McAfee. “We have all generations of Colts here representing for Robert Mathis, who is a living legend doing a great thing for the community, which he does year in and year out.”

The Pacers also had a multi-generational team, which included former players Danny Granger and Jermaine O’Neal.

When different sports eras come together, even the players find themselves starstruck.

“A guy like Jermaine O’Neal, who’s out here participating, that was one of the first NBA jerseys I bought when I was in middle school,” said Colts defensive end Kendall Langford. “He was one of my favorite players back then. So, it’s crazy to be out here with him now.”

O’Neal said that’s one of the privileges of being a retired player. Now, he’s sitting where Langford was back then. Today, he’s the fan.

“I think we all respect each other for our crafts. And we understand just how difficult it is to make it to the ultimate level,” he said. “The sports industry is a small circle. People may think it’s huge, but it’s very small. And we understand the talent, the commitment, and the effort that it takes to get to this level.”

The professional athletes who come to Indiana don’t just live here – they make it home. And they make it a better place to live for all of us.

“It’s the greatest sports town in the world,” said O’Neal. “The Colts organization has always been a first class organization – the same with the Indiana Pacers. This city is very blessed to have two outstanding organizations that really support the community and support a lot of the causes.”

And some, like Mathis, make it home forever.

“Rob is loyal all the way down. It doesn’t get any better in terms of loyalty,” said George. “It’s beautiful for him to step away from the game, but still have a strong connection here. And for the fans to continue on loving him – that’s at the end of the day, something that I can look at and be hopeful for the same.”

The kids didn’t know all the players’ names – or even what team they represented. All that mattered to them was how they made them feel.

And just like he does every year, Mathis hit a home run with the kids.

“I’ve known Robert Mathis for a long time and I can tell you this – the biggest thing about him is not really those great biceps. It’s that generous heart of his,” said L.G. Edwards, President of the Board of the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

In the end, Mathis’ team won again.

He’s not undefeated, but he’s close.

“We lost once,” he said. “I’m not proud of it.”

But putting a smile on the face of a child is something all the players can be proud of.

No matter what their team did on the field.