SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2007/This Weeks News

‘Wish’ turns two on ‘SportsCenter’ in June

ESPN will roll out its Make-A-Wish series, “My Wish,” for a second consecutive year later this month, with segments featuring NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.

Jimmie Johnson made 16-year-old Jennifer
Walters’ dream come true as part of ESPN’s
Make-A-Wish series, “My Wish.”

The spots are scheduled to run during “SportsCenter” June 24-29 and will be hosted again by Chris Connelly. The segments will be replayed on various shows during the rest of the year.

“The decision to renew this series was a no-brainer for us,” said Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer of studio production, who will oversee the series. “There’s nothing else we do that gets the sort of viewer feedback that we’ve seen with this series.”

As an example, Druley pointed to an episode last year that involved Andrew Pointer, a fifth grader suffering from renal failure, who wanted to meet the Colorado Rockies’ Todd Helton.

“Viewers wound up sending Todd Helton baseball cards to us to give to the boy,” Druley said.

Similarly, the Make-A-Wish Foundation reported a 43 percent increase in visitors to its Web site last July (to 162,000 hits from 113,000), and said online donations increased significantly during the two-week period when last year’s spots ran.

“We were pleased that we were able to get in front of a young male demographic that we’re not particularly strong with,” said David Williams, the foundation’s president and CEO.

Last year, ESPN and the Make-A-Wish Foundation created 10 spots that ran for two weeks in July. This year, they are paring it down to five, in order to concentrate more on each of the stories.

“We were really fortunate that all 10 of the stories from last year were as high quality as they were,” Druley said.

The stories are planned for the summer months, when “SportsCenter” does not have a lot of sports to cover. Each segment lasts between seven and eight minutes.

The critically acclaimed series connects people with life-threatening illnesses with athletes they admire. Each story follows a similar pattern, showing the reason the children want their wishes, interviews with the children and their families and a behind-the-scenes look at their wishes being fulfilled. To ensure that the children are surprised, the network isn’t identifying two of the athletes who will take part, since those spots have yet to be filmed.

One of this year’s stories involves Jennifer Walters, a 16-year-old girl from Colesburg, Iowa. She suffers from lymphoma and wanted to meet Jimmie Johnson, who, along with his wife, is a  member of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s National Advisory Council.

Walters met Johnson in May at the Darlington Raceway, where she was in the pits and attended drivers’ meetings with him. Her biggest thrill was having Johnson drive her around the track at high speeds in his car.

Though ESPN has tried but failed before to sell a sponsorship, it is not trying this year. Instead, the series will be presented in cooperation with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Walt Disney Co.

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