When most people celebrate March Madness, they go to a local bar with a couple of buddies and spend the evening arguing over Georgetown’s chances, consuming mass quantities of fried food and guzzling domestic beer.
That’s exactly what University alum Myron Hepner did last weekend at Damon’s Grill, but he did it to raise funds for the University’s Kellogg Eye Center, which helped his son overcome cancer about four years ago.
“Every year in March, I get together with my friends and we go to a bar for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament,” Hepner said. “Sitting around two years ago we said, ‘ya know, everyone knows we do this. We should see if we can spin it into a charity event or something.’ “
Three years after the center removed his then-nine-month-old son Brendan’s eye, Hepner created the event, called March Madness Against Blindness, to help fund Kellogg’s research.
“We’ve been taking him to Kellogg for five years, and whenever we go there, the people have just been so nice and helpful and caring,” Hepner said. “I’ve always tried to find a way to give back to them.”
Hepner, who can usually be seen wearing a button saying “Ask me about Brendan,” said the event was successful even though it received slightly less attendance than last year due to Friday’s inclement weather.
Greg Dootz, the Hepners’ ophthalmologist at Kellogg, said he supports the cause and its ability to bring together people with similar problems.
“I was with them last year at the event, I contributed to the event, my whole family came as well,” Dootz said. “It’s a wonderful event – they’ve touched a cord with a lot of people who have had eye problems or know somebody with eye problems.”
Much of the excitement from this year’s event came Friday when Hepner’s son raffled off a basketball autographed by men’s basketball coach John Beilein and two pictures of Crisler Arena taken by a local artist. The prizes were donated to the cause.
When he wasn’t watching the games or discussing bracketology, Hepner was sipping on domestic brews and snacking on some of Damon’s finest fare.
“I’m drinking the whole time, but the secret is to pace yourself on the beer, and pace yourself on the food,” Hepner said. “But make sure you eat.”
The final tab in donations hasn’t been finalized yet. Last year’s event garnered the Eye Center $6,000, and Hepner hopes this year’s number will be even higher. Anyone who ate at Damon’s over the two-day span and mentioned the event donated 20 percent of his or her bill to the fundraiser.
The walls of Damon’s were also scattered with paper basketballs from those who donated. University sorority Delta Gamma, which is engaged in a philanthropy program called Service for Sight, hit the pavement Thursday and Friday in hopes of getting donations.
“The story was very inspiring, and we’ve been involved with Kellogg for a while,” said LSA sophomore Kaylie Hanson, the sorority’s vice president of foundation.
Delta Gamma sold more paper basketballs by themselves than March Madness Against Blindness sold in total last year, Hepner said.
Even though the Final Four teams have yet to be established, Hepner is already thinking about next year’s event.
“There’s lots of possibilities and lots of groups that have expressed interest,” Hepner said. “I’ve thought about getting the Athletic Department involved, possibly with player appearances, but right now I’m focused on building it up and building awareness.”
Those who missed the event but still want to contribute to the Kellogg Eye Center can donate at www.marchmadnessagainstblindness.com.