What started as a small dose of humor has evolved into an avalanche of good will that can only make Doug Bilodeau laugh and smile.
All the North Marion (Aurora, Ore.)
football coach did was stand next to his street holding a sign that said "Will work for helmets" and posted a picture of it to Facebook for some giggles. What evolved from it has been a nationwide outpouring of donations to help the football program get the helmets it so badly needed.
posted an article with the photo
to reach the local audience. Then MaxPreps found the story and made it national
, before Yahoo! and before the Huffington Post.
That's when the avalanche began.
"You made it viral and then it kind of went from there. It went crazy," Bilodeau said.
The 48-year-old coach has been fielding calls and emails from Maine, Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and more about how to donate. A cheerleading coach from South Carolina wanted to help, a group representing a foundation honoring a young man who died from football injuries wanted to help and even the coach's brother, an assistant at Granby Memorial (Conn.)
, offered. Locals have been coming through with plenty of work orders in exchange for helmet funds, like having players move bark dust around a yard or washing down the grounds of a local car dealership or raking leaves.
Then came an unexpected email — and $7,000.
contacted Bilodeau with this offer: "We heard about your selfless efforts to raise funds for new helmets for your North Marion High football team, and we are very impressed and inspired by your actions. We would love to make you a deal — one donation in return for another! If you and your football team will
agree to donate a few hours of your time for any type of volunteer
service effort in your community, Hampton Hotels will donate the $7,000
in remaining funds for your team’s new helmets."
It's a part of the Hands-On Hamptonality Program
, self-described as "Hampton Hotels’ signature community relations program that aims to inspire acts of service, both large and small, to help build stronger and more connected communities through the spirit of hospitality." Hampton Hotels has 1,900 locations worldwide and is part of Hilton Worldwide.
"I read (the email) 10 times because I was trying to figure it out. They say, 'Doug,
we want to donate to you. And we want to take care of the $7,000.' Chills went
up my spine. I think I skipped a heartbeat. I couldn't believe it," said Bilodeau, 48. "That someone that far away would care about North Marion High, it brings
tears to my eyes. I lay in bed and think 'Why do I deserve this, God. Why
are you blessing me this way?'"
Jennifer Silberman, vice president of corporate responsibility for Hilton Worldwide, said the MaxPreps story was a catalyst that started the Hands-On Hamptonality donation, and that it was a no-brainer for the company.
"(MaxPreps) did a great job in covering a wonderful story about a local team in need and the importance of high school sports and community engagement," she said. "It really fit so well with our program. It’s inspiring acts large and small and this is a great way of supporting a backyard community. For us it was a natural fit to celebrate service in the community."
A coaching legend even got involved. Former
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
coach George Smith, who amassed six state titles and a 361-66 record at the Florida school, also found the story on MaxPreps and was compelled to reach out.
"I was head coach for 34 years and we won national titles, we
played in Paul Brown Stadium, at Ohio State and Cowboys Stadium. But I remember when I took over in 1975, that was not the case at all.
Back in the day in early '70s when I got down here we had stuff that the (Miami) Dolphins didn’t want. Like pants and shoes that were too big for the
kids. We were struggling. We are successful now but it wasn’t always that way," Smith said. "Coaches help coaches, especially old guys like me that know what it's like. In watching the video and his demeanor, this guy is a good guy. He gives a (care).
"When we started this thing, we didn’t have a lot. If people hadn’t helped us, who knows?"
Smith called up his local Riddell Helmets rep and asked for a matching donation. All went well.
Smith's motivations for getting involved obviously stemmed from good will. Turns out his love for dogs was just as instrumental.
"Somebody had read about interstate
matchups on MaxPreps so I wanted to pick that up. Then I saw this Oregon school will
work for helmets. I got on the school's website and I
saw they have to pay to play and I know how things are
with the economy, especially when dealing with helmets," Smith said. "I explained to him 'I saw your thing on MaxPreps and I thought the dog was cool. I
saw the picture of his dog and saw the video and I saw the dogs out
work. I'm a big dog guy."
That dog's name is Sally, and she definitely earned some of the credit.
"I called George and said 'I want to thank you.' He said 'No, I did it for your dog.'
To me that's the kind of humor I love," Bilodeau said. "That's just awesome stuff, I bet
this guy is passionate about what he does."
The whole situation began when Bilodeau's youngest daughter, 12-year-old Madison, took his little joke and made him a sign. Older daughter, 16-year-old Allison, took the picture, and Sally (8 years old in human years) struck a pose. The picture went onto his Facebook page, but that was as far as he took it.
A local youth coach, Phil Gendhar, decided to send it out to The Oregonian and the local Woodburn Independent without Bilodeau's knowledge. Then the avalanche began.
Bilodeau's program was facing an uphill battle, wanting to add 15 helmets to the equipment room and needing to replace 15 helmets that were simply too old to be reconditioned. The money wasn't there, so he was already trying to think of ways to accomplish the goal of 30 new helmets.
"I didn't believe we wouldn't reach the goal. I would have done something. The community would have done something," he said.
The most important thing Bilodeau said he wanted to express, aside from his gratitude, is that he wasn't asking for people to donate helmets. He wanted his program to work for it. The Hampton donation definitely will fit that bill.
"I've got to tell you the key component is I didn't say 'Need helmets.' I said
'Will work for helmets.' A guy like George Smith wouldn't
have said need a helmet. It's that old kind
of 'let's get after it' thing. That's what made my dad proud," said Bilodeau, married to wife Nicole for 21 years. "One of the (Hampton) conditions is that we help the community out. Our kids are
up for that. There are a few projects that people have talked about in
passing. There is an old cemetery that people wish would be cleaned up,
that's probably one. We want to help people that need some help, too. Someone
gave us a hand up and we want to give a hand up, if that means going to someone's
house and cleaning up and making their life more simple."
In an era of dwindling football budgets and tighter money for most Americans, getting funds for things like helmets is not always easy, and requires innovation. People are tired of buying chocolate bars for fundraisers, Bilodeau said, and Oregon's rainy climate makes car washes a futile endeavor, because it's just going to rain the day after someone gets his or her car washed. Coaches have to find unique ways, and more importantly, should be willing to work for the funds to enhance a program's coffers.
They will do the work at North Marion, and they will remain grateful for the nationwide attention and the support from the school administration. And they'll keep that sense of humor.
"From a joke to reality, it's unbelievable," Bilodeau said. "If kids see you work hard, they will work hard. It's an amazing miracle."