St. Mark's Lutheran Church was buzzing with excitement as the Families of Children with Cancer Holiday Party received a special visit from Green Bay Packers players on Monday night.
The players could've mistaken the banquet room for Lambeau Field as the room was overflowing with cheering families wearing Packers gear. The smiles being seen around the room were an immediate sign of new hope and strength that were being shared by families and players alike.
The holiday party is a tradition that is not new to the Packers organization. The team has been volunteering at the event for many years, and for some of the players this is an annual occasion.
This year's players who attended the holiday party are Mason Crosby, Chad Clifton, Randall Cobb, Davon House, Brad Jones, T.J. Lang, Brandian Ross and Vic So'oto.
The event featured Culver's ice cream, a pizza dinner, mingling time with players, games, arts and crafts and a holiday sing-along.
From So'oto's checkers skills, to Lang's dance moves during caroling, to Crosby playing pin the tail on the donkey, the night was filled with family fun and memories that won't soon be forgotten.
"Yes, it was a hard-fought checkers game and I lost," said linebacker Vic So'oto. "This Packers player is 13-1, as of tonight."
The other players were also heavily involved in the activities throughout the night. Jones played Twister, Cobb helped turn song book pages while caroling, House received a temporary tattoo, Ross played Mancala and Clifton enjoyed a fishing game. All of the players seemed to be having just as much fun as the children were.
Eight-year-old Logan Smith's favorite part of the evening, however, was simply getting to meet all of the players. Smith was diagnosed with Leukemia approximately a month before the event took place, making this his first outing since his diagnosis.
"I really liked meeting all of the players," said Logan, "especially Mason Crosby. I have been looking for him all night!"
The night was a chance for children to forget about their tough endeavors and to give them an opportunity to interact with some of the community's most distinguished role models during the holiday season.
"I think the smile on the kids' faces says it all," said Derrick Smith, Logan's father. "As well-known as the Packers are, I think that it still means a lot to them that people are so excited to see them. It shows the support the community really has for the team, and that we are really tight knit."
Stories were being swapped between families and players throughout the evening, and it wasn't just children who were being inspired.
"It's tough what they're going through," said guard T.J. Lang. "Anything we can do while being here to support them and make them happy around this time of year is a really special thing,"
Lang was one player present on Monday who had previous experience with the event. Although it was his second year taking part, Lang was still inspired by the courage and strength of the children and their families.
For some players, the event touched closer to home. Vic So'oto described his family's many encounters with cancer and was proud to be the first player to volunteer for the event.
"Just knowing kids are going through this, and everything that comes with cancer, is just heartbreaking," So'oto said. "To come here and be able to take them away from that for five or 10 minutes, so that they can be with someone they think is cool, and play checkers, is fun."
Families were astounded by the compassion and love being shown by the players to their children. Hugs were being exchanged like the event was a family reunion, and players had kids sitting on their laps by the end of the night.
"It just shows what a great organization the Packers really are," said Logan Smith's mother, Ann. "This is a small town and it makes everyone aware of what is going on. This is a wonderful program and we're proud to be a part of it."
As the night came to an end, children took the microphone to announce personal thanks to all of the players. Some children were grateful for the players' time, some were happy to take pictures and one child even said he was able to forget he was sick.
So, as the winter months and holiday season approaches, the cold will be no match for the warmth in the hearts of those heroes from the frozen tundra, the heroes they met Monday night.