PHOENIX — Earlier this month on 12 Sports Tonight we introduced you to Kevin Winegar, a football player and junior at Eastmark High School who's battling leukemia.
Winegar was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia just days after helping the Firebirds win their first State Championship. The last several weeks have been challenging for Winegar and his family but his hometown NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, stepped up in a big way for a young member of the Bird Gang.
On Friday the 13th, Winegar showed up to his school’s sports assembly but he quickly started to get the feeling this one was different.
“I was asking my dad, I was asking my mom, I'm like, ‘what's happening? Like what's about to happen?’” Winegar said. “Then I saw the red jersey and I was just like ‘oh my gosh, are the Cardinals here?!’”
Cardinals players and team Vice President Nicole Bidwill entered the gym and surprised Winegar in front of his classmates by showing him love during his fight against cancer. Winegar had his first chemo treatment just weeks after helping the Firebirds win the 3A state title. Those close to Winegar call him Joey, but the Cardinals are calling him and inspiration.
“I can't imagine what he's been going through and the pain that he's been feeling,” Cardinals linebacker and captain Dennis Gardeck said. “The ability to fight through that the resilience and understanding that he’s going to State and he wants to play – I can relate to that so much. It’s just incredible how tough and committed to his sport, to his team, everything that he’s been.”
Winegar’s faith and the love from his community have helped him maintain a positive attitude throughout this difficult time. His family and friends came up to the assembly with “Winegar Strong” tee shirts to show their support.
“It is cancer and it is a bad thing but what I've been told is that since it's a specific type of leukemia, it's acute lymphoblastic leukemia, it has a high survival rate,” he said. “I've always had that I'm going to survive. I'm gonna get through this. I got through it with football and I can get through it in life as well.”
Winegar’s gut feeling was right – this assembly was different. The Cardinals brought Kevin to the center of the gym, in front of his classmates and family, and surprised him with two tickets to Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
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“I was speechless. I couldn't think,” he said. “I'm just like ‘oh my gosh, I got to go to the Super Bowl!’”
Winegar’s mom, Doorly, had a hand in pulling off this big surprise. While he will be taking his dad to the Big Game, mom is thrilled to see her son smiling again.
“I cannot believe that the NFL and the Cardinals are here. I mean, they've had such a long season, so many things going on. And for them to make us a priority. It just means the world to us,” Doorly said. “To keep this secret has been the hardest thing of my life!”
His treatment will take around two years to complete, and he’s already undergone several rounds of chemo. His football family now reaches the NFL and the Cardinals, who provided the Mesa teen with an incredible morale boost during his battle.
“It's incredible that he gets to go to the Super Bowl, but this is about so much more than that. He's part of the family. He's inspiring everybody. He’s inspiring our whole football team, “ Gardeck said. “I think this is exactly what the football community is all about. We've seen, especially recently, how this community can come together and rally behind somebody that needs support.”
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