Oxford Youth 'Makes A Wish, Watches Courtside As Rebels Upset Alabama
Jan. 22, 2003
OXFORD, Miss. - Meriko Hill of Oxford thought he was going to his uncle's birthday party Tuesday night.
So when the 12-year-old saw a limousine waiting to take him and his family to a University of Mississippi basketball game, he "went crazy," his mom said.
"He screamed and hollered, 'Oh my goodness,'" Robin Hill recalled with happiness in her voice.
Before the night was over, Meriko had done a lot more shouting, as he watched the Ole Miss Rebels upset 15th-ranked Alabama 76-57 from his courtside seat in the student section of C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.
He and his family got the royal treatment courtesy of the Make-A-Wish? Foundation of the Mid-South Inc., a nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. His mother said Meriko has sickle cell anemia, a painful genetic disorder.
Meriko may have been the Rebels' good luck charm. Before the game, Head Basketball Coach Rod Barnes, team assist leader David Sanders, forward Derrick Allen and guard Emmanuel Wade talked with him while they signed autographs and shook his hand. He smiled shyly through much of the first half, while the students around him whooped and cheered.
Foundation Wish Coordinator Robin Kuhtz said Meriko didn't wish for the basketball game experience. He wished for something more practical - a computer. When the limo brought Meriko and his family home Tuesday night, he found a top-of-the-line Dell computer with lots of gadgets and a computer desk and chair for him.
"The basketball game is an extra, special surprise," Kuhtz said. "It's all part of the fanfare. We try to take this little spot in time and make it as special as possible. We tailor this experience for each child; each child is different.
"He may get a new computer five or 10 years down the road, but he's always going to remember this one and this experience," she said.
Meriko found out about the computer from an unlikely source - Rebel guard Sanders.
"He said 'Did you wish for a computer? That wish is granted,'" Meriko told his mom. "Does that mean I got a computer?"
By the second half, Meriko and his sister, Meriaka, 9, waved red and blue streamers and jumped and cheered with university students as Ole Miss solidified its lead. They wore visors given to them as impromptu prizes by two students while they yelled "Go Rebels, Go" along with the cheerleaders.
In a new blue Ole Miss duffle bag, Meriko took home Ole Miss shorts, T-shirts, caps and a basketball autographed by the players and coaches.
As the game wound down and it was time to go meet the limo, someone asked Meriko what his favorite part of the night had been. "Everything," he said.
Derek Horne, assistant athletic director at Ole Miss and a Make-A-Wish board member, said he's very excited that Ole Miss could be a part of Meriko's wish experience.
"If we just eased his pain, eased his worry and took his mind off his troubles for a little while, then we did a good job," Horne said.
For more information on Meriko and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-South, please call 1-800-264-WISH or visit the website at www.midsouthwish.org.
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