DAHLONEGA -- "Aloha, Joseph! Aloha, Joseph!" That cheer from the crowd at Wednesday night's men's basketball game at the University of North Georgia capped off an event that 11-year-old Joseph had been eagerly waiting for, the moment when his dream became reality.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and UNG, which was recognized as one of the top five NCAA Division II institutions in the nation for its contributions to the organization, Joseph and his family will be traveling to Maui, Hawaii, in an all-expenses-paid trip filled with adventures such as swimming with dolphins and visiting an underwater volcano. Joseph, who was diagnosed at 9 years old with a form of cancer known as Burkitt's lymphoma, had made a wish to travel to Hawaii.
"The Make-A-Wish reveal was a culmination of a collective effort that began with our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and spread throughout the university and the Dahlonega community," said Athletic Director Lindsay Reeves. "It was so rewarding to see the joy that Joseph experienced during his induction into the Nighthawk family."
Joseph spent the evening leading up to the game in VIP style, first being treated to a police escort from his hotel to UNG's Dahlonega Campus.
"That was one of my favorite parts of the day," Joseph said. "The cop I was riding with told me to click this button, and I did, and the lights came on! It was great."
Upon arriving, Joseph and his family were greeted by Athletic Director Lindsay Reeves and many UNG student-athletes, including golfer and Make-A-Wish recipient Bridget Sandy, who served as Joseph's personal escort. He then joined Reeves and men's basketball head coach Chris Faulkner in a mock press conference, where he signed a one-day contract to play for the Nighthawks and was questioned by sports reporters.
At the start of the women's basketball game, UNG starting players greeted Joseph courtside as their names were called, and he threw t-shirts to the crowd during the first timeout. He and his family enjoyed VIP seating at half-court next to Reeves and UNG President Bonita Jacobs, and at the start of halftime, UNG cheerleaders treated Joseph with a custom cheer of "J, O, S-E-P-H. Joseph, Joseph, is really great!"
During halftime, Joseph and his family were taken off the floor to a luau-themed room filled with his favorite foods, including pizza, chicken fingers and rainbow sherbet. As the women's game entered its final minutes, Joseph made his way to the men's basketball locker room, where he was greeted by the players and given a North Georgia jersey bearing the signatures of the entire team. He stayed with them throughout their pre-game meeting, and following the UNG women's basketball team's victory, he led the men's team onto the floor amidst cheers of "Let's go, Joseph!"
While throwing more t-shirts to the crowd, Joseph personally handed one to a new friend he made earlier that evening - UNG student Erin Dunton, also a Make-A-Wish recipient, who said that Joseph's gesture "brightened her life."
After helping the team grab rebounds during their warm-up, Joseph joined Sandy and Travis Core, men's team captain and president of UNG's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, in the center of the court to officially welcome Joseph as a Nighthawk.
"We are one big family here at North Georgia, and I want you to know that you are now part of the Nighthawk family," Core said. "I also heard that it was your wish to go to Hawaii. Well, I'm here to inform you, that in just 38 days, on April 5, you and your family will be going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Maui."
As the crowd cheered, Core led them in the chant of "Aloha, Joseph," as Joseph jumped with excitement.
"I have been having so much fun," Joseph said.
Among all NCAA Division II schools, UNG has donated the highest amount of money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in two of the past three academic years. UNG pledged the second most of all NCAA Division II schools in 2012-2013, raising $11,223, and was one of only five NCAA Division II schools in the country chosen to host a Make-A-Wish reveal.