My WishStarting 5

“My Wish” returns to SC Sunday; Michigan football, ESPN’s Howard featured Tuesday

“My Wish” 2014

Preview the 2014 series hosted by Emmy Award-winning reporter Chris Connelly, who has hosted the previous eight “My Wish” series. This ESPN Features Unit project is overseen by Victor Vitarelli, senior coordinating producer, and Valerie Gordon, coordinating producer.

Each wish will be the subject of a SportsCenter segment (the first on Sunday’s 10 a.m. ET SportsCenter, the others debuting on each weekday’s 6 p.m. SportsCenter, culminating with a compilation piece on Thursday or Saturday, July 24/26).

Sunday, July 20 – Cam Newton: 6-year-old George, who has battled lymphoma, joins the Carolina Panthers and meets his favorite QB.
Monday, July 21 – Dustin Pedroia: 12-year-old Jace survived numerous heart surgeries. Now he shows his favorite player how to hit one over the Green Monster.
Tuesday, July 22 — Michigan football: 18-year-old Stephen (see mainbar).
Wednesday, July 23 — Gabby Douglas: 13-year-old Amarissa, a former gymnast who suffers from renal disease and lupus, trains with the Olympic gold medalist.
Thursday, July 24/Saturday, July 26 – Compilation of highlights from this year’s Wishes.

Michigan football is the first collegiate team to participate in the annual SportsCenter “My Wish” series, and it was a requisite team effort with “players” from Miami, St. Louis and most importantly Grain Valley, Mo., and Ann Arbor, Mich., contributing MVP efforts to complete Tuesday’s piece in this summer’s series.

Wolverines fan Stephen Loszewski, 18, had played football until being diagnosed with leukemia in ninth grade. When his wish to be recruited by the Wolverines was selected, ESPN producer Kristen Lappas had her first her My Wish assignment.

“I was really excited to get the opportunity,” said Lappas, who joined ESPN after graduating from Boston College in 2009. “I produce features on College Gameday, mostly on the field, more sports intensive pieces, but ‘My Wish’ is much more important in the grand scheme of life.”

Lappas’ plans to follow the “Wish-segment” norm — interview the family before it knows the Wish will happen — were sidetracked when Loszewski, still in treatment for leukemia, suffered setbacks during the scheduled shoots despite being just a month away from his “cure date.”

His favorite player, St. Louis Rams tackle and former Michigan player Jake Long, drove four hours and surprised Stephen just an hour after he returned home from the hospital. Michigan Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN College GameDay college football analyst Desmond Howard, scheduled to fly from Miami for the original Wish shoot in Ann Arbor, changed plans when that was postponed and made it there for the re-scheduled shoot.

“As producers, we have wish lists of what we’d like to happen, so I asked [Michigan director of football operations] Justin Dickens if Jake could tape something for us,” Lappas said. “He came back and said ‘I’ll do you one better – here’s his cell [number], give him a call, he said he’ll make the drive.’ I was shocked. Not only did he come to the house, he spent a lot of time with the family.”

Two trips to Grain Valley included three tornado warnings.

“One siren and the loudspeakers in the hotel – I guess it’s just another day for the residents, but it kind of freaked me out,” Lappas said.

Even though it was their last day on campus after summer school, the entire team was there, and you could tell they were really into it.
Kristen Lappas, ESPN producer, on Michigan football’s help on “My Wish” feature

The Wolverines “went through hoops to make the day as perfect as the first day we had planned,” Lappas said. “They said they wanted to make it the best day of his life, and they did. When we said we’d like it if Stephen could run through the tunnel with the team, coach [Brady] Hoke made it happen. Even though it was their last day on campus after summer school, the entire team was there, and you could tell they were really into it, they didn’t do anything half-heartedly.”

Make-A-Wish® Michigan becomes the first collegiate “My Wish” while Wednesday’s Wish — featuring gymnast Gabby Douglas – will be the 50th granted since the series began in 2006.