University of Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon remembers four years ago when the Champions for Children’s Hearts Weekend fundraiser was comprised of just a tent, a golf outing and free food, led by former football players Brian Griese and Steve Hutchinson.

Now in its fourth year and with a third leader in former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson joining the team, the event reached new heights in its donations to Mott Children’s Hospital, eclipsing the $1 million mark. That far exceeds the previous three events, which had combined for a total of $1.2 million.

The greater amount of money donated is due in part to the program, which featured a silent and live auction on Saturday night that was hosted by ESPN personality Mike Tirico.

“I never would’ve dreamed that this would’ve raised over a million dollars,” Brandon said. “It’s mind-boggling that in just four years of work that everyone could put something like this together.”

Despite 2010 being Brandon’s first year at the helm of the Athletic Department, he’s no stranger to the Champions for Children’s Heart Weekend. And since Brandon’s twin sons, Chris and Nick, were saved shortly after birth by doctors at Mott Hospital, the event functions as a yearly reminder for him of what’s important in life.

“When personally you’re affected and your life is changed, that’s what you don’t forget,” Brandon said. “That’s what keeps me motivated to do what I can to help out.”

The new Mott Children’s Hospital, which will include the new Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, is scheduled to open in 2012, and with the continued fundraisers launched by Michigan athletic alumni — eight others have taken place across the country since January — events such as the Champions for Children’s Heart Weekend should play a significant role in completing the hospital project.

For Brandon, that significant effect comes as no surprise.

“Over the last three or four years, we’ve formalized this connection between Michigan athletics and Mott in a way that we can really raise a lot of money,” Brandon said. “Not only are we helping the kids, signing autographs and giving them that time and attention, now we’re giving them time and resources and we’re helping build the new hospital.”

Hutchinson, who played at the University from 1997-2000, says the bond between philanthrophy and athletics is something that’s been consistent in Ann Arbor for most of the program’s history — even in a time when the program has felt the heat of the national spotlight.

“Michigan football has been around for 130 years,” Hutchinson said. “Because they’ve had a couple years they’re not particularly proud of has no reflection on this tournament or this family. To get guys that have played spanning four decades, that just speaks volumes to how strong that bond is.”

With the team in the midst of NCAA allegations and back-to-back losing seasons under coach Rich Rodriguez, many former players spoke about that bond. And Woodson, who played at the University from 1995-97, said that Rodriguez has continued the tradition of giving back in his two seasons in Ann Arbor.

“It’s a family,” Woodson said. “In my opinion, (Rodriguez) has (embraced that tradition). This is what Michigan is all about. It’s about supporting each other, supporting this university. And we’re letting him know that we support him. When it comes to this event, he’s a part of it, and he’s understanding what this culture is about. Now, we just want him to win.”

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