Chris Connelly has hosted the ESPN “My Wish” Series each year since it began in 2006. While every season features different sports-themed wishes being granted to children with critical illnesses, Connelly feels that this year’s group has a different feel.
“I think what happened this year is we’ve gotten a renewed sense of how much sports matter, in a really intense way, for some young people in crisis,” Connelly said. “There was something distinctive about this year.”
The five-part series kicks off Saturday morning on SportsCenter with New York Giants star Saquon Barkley hosting 14-year-old George Taylor, a high school football player battling Ewing sarcoma.
“In the middle of what looked like the worst year of his life, George writes a letter to Saquon Barkley, telling Saquon how much watching him inspires him when he’s getting his chemotherapy,” Connelly said.
“We also have Rhianna Sammut who we met up with in the UK – and she has systemic mastocytosis,” Connelly said. “She’s had debilitating pain, she’s been bullied at school, and she’s really gone through a tough time.
“Her attachment to the women of the WWE has really meant a lot. They’ve been like a lifesaver for her, especially her role model, Stephanie McMahon,” he said. “And to hear about how great Rhianna’s affection is for WWE, and how seeing her favorite wrestlers bounce back from struggles gives her courage, was really striking.”
“My Wish” Series leadership also decided to take a different approach this year by including Dude Perfect, the YouTube sensation trick shot artists. The five members of the group treat Nolan Harm, an 11-year-old living with cystic fibrosis, to a day at their Texas facility.
“Nolan has been watching Dude Perfect videos with his brother Liam, who also has cystic fibrosis, for a number of years now … and they’ve been trying to reenact the shots in their backyard,” Connelly said.
“So for him to get the chance to hang out with these guys really seemed to lift his spirits in a big way. These guys may not play for a familiar team, but they are really popular . . . and you can sense Nolan’s excitement from the very beginning when it’s revealed that he’ll be getting his wish.”
More new “My Wish” features debut Monday through Thursday on SportsCenter. The series has partnered with Make-A-Wish® to fulfill 68 sports-themed wishes for children since 2006. The ESPN “My Wish” Series is part of the Disney Team of Heroes initiative.