The relationship between the University of Michigan athletic department and the school's C.S. Mott Children's and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital goes back a long time. For years, UM athletics has hosted fundraisers for the hospital, and players and coaches have visited patients.
So with a new Mott hospital building opening in November, the athletic department decided to take its involvement to the next level. The result is the "Michigan Football Experience Room," a large, interactive play area for patients and their families that attempts to bring the Big House atmosphere to the hospital.
"Our patients are often given tickets to Michigan football games, but some are too sick to go to the stadium," says Melissa Dyer, Mott's Development Coordinator. "So we were looking to replicate the game day experience as much as possible, including things like the band and the cheerleaders."
The room will include nine different "zones," each of which incorporates a unique aspect of a Michigan football game day. The experience begins from the moment someone enters the room and they can touch the M Club's "Go Blue" banner. From there, a music-themed area has a circle of buttons at varying heights. Patients can push them to elicit sounds of various instruments found in a marching band.
The next zone is a bright blue and gold jungle gym that patients can climb on and over. High-definition video interviews featuring coaches, players, and cheerleaders highlight another area. Patients are then invited to test their arm by throwing a Nerf football through a spinning hole.
At another zone called the press box, patients can log on to a computer and interact with Michigan football via the Internet. Suggestions include sending a message to the team or taking a picture of yourself dressed up in UM garb and uploading it.
Ideas for the zones came from the athletic department staff and a survey Dyer sent to former patients and their families about what they would like to see in such a room. Survey responses provided reminders that the room would be serving children of different ages and ability levels.
"We wanted to come up with something for everyone and incorporate as many suggestions as we could," Dyer says. "We also had to make sure things were accessible for our patients in wheelchairs and include some non-physical activities for patients who might not be able to do as much."
Designers were careful to make some of the areas not completely Michigan-focused. "The hospital is affiliated with the University of Michigan, but we get patients from everywhere," Dyer says. "We see plenty of kids who are Ohio State and Michigan State fans, and we want to make sure these patients enjoy the activities as well."
To help raise money for the room, Michigan tied its spring football game into fundraising for the hospital. Fans who made a donation received various rewards, including sideline passes to selected home games. The donations were matched by a local Michigan family, and this season, the efforts raised $365,492. Of that, $100,000 went to the room itself, with the remaining going toward the general construction of the hospital.
Once the room opens, David Ablauf, Associate Athletic Director of Public and Media Relations at Michigan, feels athletes' visits to the hospital will be more dynamic. "Our players can always visit patients in their rooms, but the Michigan Experience Room is going to add another level of interactivity to the visits," he says. "The room provides a spot for the players and patients to meet, and that makes it more special.
"This is a win-win situation for both our department and the community," Ablauf adds. "Michigan football has long been a part of Mott, and our players gain a lot from their visits. They see first hand how the time and effort they put in, and the money they help raise, affect the children and their families on a variety of levels."