Twelve years ago, Jocelyn Borzick got news no new mother wants to hear. Her infant son Logan had been rushed to the hospital, where he was subsequently treated for myriad of injuries including skull fractures, a detached retina and bleeding on his brain – all the result of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of his biological father.
The prognosis was not good.
“They basically told us when we left the hospital, ‘Good luck, he won’t be able to do anything,’” Borzick said. “It was pretty terrible.”
Today, Logan is a happy 12-year-old who loves music, Buzz Lightyear and his St. Francis Warriors football team, of which he is the proud manager. Though his development has far exceeded doctors’ expectations, he remains cognitively delayed, and a neuropsychological exam revealed him to be at about age 5 or 6 mentally.
Borzick is now spearheading a campaign to raise funds for the construction of an all abilities playground in St. Francis so that Logan and other children and adults with physical or cognitive disabilities can have a safe place to play.
Recently, she got a little help from two high schools, including her alma mater, St. Thomas More High School, who on Aug. 29 met their cross-town rivals, the St. Francis High School Mariners, in a special varsity football game to benefit the proposed St. Francis All Abilities Playground.
Through the sale of T-shirts and 50/50 raffle tickets at the game, about $2,506 was raised that night in support of the playground. The game was also voted the Fox 6 Game of the Week, garnering some valuable public awareness for the proposed playground.
“We had a very big crowd – probably one of the bigger crowds that we’ll see all year,” said Nick Kelly, assistant head football coach at St. Thomas More. It was Kelly who initially proposed the game after seeing a friend’s post about Borzick’s campaign on social media. He also designed the fundraising T-shirts, featuring the slogan: “One city, two schools, one goal.”
Kelly said St. Thomas More’s football program is always looking to do charity games, and he feels it is important for his student athletes to be involved in social justice initiatives.
“We’re a school foundation based off of Christian/Catholic values,” said Kelly. “We want to have a community outreach, we want to have our players not only be athletes on the field but members of the community (who) embody the full image of what you want a student athlete to be. We’re molding these young men to be leaders within the Catholic realm.”
“I was just really touched that they were willing to help my organization out and make it a big deal,” said Borzick, a 1996 graduate of St. Thomas More, who also said that she has relied on her faith, family and friends to get through what has been a difficult past 12 years. “My family wouldn’t be where we are without God and his Divine Hand on us, watching over us,” she said.
In a city that is only about two miles wide, the competition between its private and public high schools can become intense.
“There’s not a lot of room for two high schools,” said Mike Lewandowski, athletic director and assistant principal at St. Francis High School. St. Thomas More football and swimming programs even utilize the St. Francis High School football field and pool.
Nevertheless, there is a certain camaraderie that comes from such cramped quarters: “We do what we can do to help them, and when we need something they do what they can to help us,” said Lewandowski.
And so when Kelly contacted St. Francis football coach Doug Sarver about a non-conference game to benefit the community the two schools share, it was a natural fit.
“One of the things that we really want to pursue with our kids is the opportunity to give back – to understand what it means to be a member of a community, to be a good person, believe in charity and believe in giving of yourself,” said Lewandowski.
TJ Koenig, a senior at St. Thomas More and a running back and defensive back on the varsity football team, described the game – which the Cavaliers lost 40-26 – as an unforgettable experience.
“We both came out ready for a battle and wanted nothing more than to beat our cross-town rivals. In the end, what the scoreboard said didn’t matter; we all succeeded in helping a dream come true for disabled kids,” he said.
“As high school football players, we may take for granted that we are able to play the game of football, but it is reassuring that we can all come together to help those who are less fortunate.”
Mark Joerres, chief administrator at St. Thomas More, said the proposed all abilities playground “fit perfectly with all that we (as a school) attempt to foster and promote.”
“It’s always encouraging to see people rally together for a good cause. With so much tragedy and negativity in our world, witnessing efforts that build, promote and unify can reignite confidence and faith in people and programs.”
Borzick first got the idea for an all abilities playground in early 2013, when she saw a post on Facebook that depicted a wheelchair swing with the caption “All parks should have these!”
“I thought, ‘This is pretty awesome,’” she said. Subsequent Internet research introduced her to Possibility Playground in Port Washington, a handicap accessible playground built by more than 3,000 community volunteers in 2008. The family soon visited the park, and “we just thought it was super-cool, and Logan thought it was cool … and understood that there were a lot of fun things for him and his friends that he wouldn’t be able to do at your regular Milwaukee County playground.”
In 2013, Borzick founded the St. Francis All Abilities Playground Fund, a 501(c)3 organization through the Optimist International Fund. This past April, the St. Francis Common Council voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding concerning the playground, giving the official go-ahead for fundraising to begin.
As it stands, the park will be community-built and financed entirely from donor money. Borzick hopes the fundraising will be complete by September 2016, and estimates it will cost around $425,000 to build the plaground.
She has also connected with a New York-based architecture firm, Leathers and Associates, who has been designing all-inclusive playgrounds since the 1970s, and hopes to have a 3D rendering of the design to show to donors soon.
“We’ve gotten great community support, which I think is really awesome, because most people don’t really think about this until someone brings it up,” she said. “And it’s like, ‘Well, why can’t everybody play together?’”