If a picture were worth a 1,000 words, you would need several scrapbooks to capture the scope of the inaugural Pistons Cares Telethon Benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan.
With Friday night’s Local 4 WDIV broadcast of the Pistons-Spurs game, the Detroit Pistons became the Motor City’s first pro sports franchise to dedicate an entire game day to charity through its media partners and game broadcast, as well as in-arena announcements and events.
The Pistons Cares Telethon permeated The Palace atmosphere all night, and penetrated the hearts of donors from all over Southeastern Michigan who called in or contributed online. Their generosity raised more than $412,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the number is sure to rise in the coming days.
Here’s how it happened, and what some of the people involved had to say about it.
Many Palace employees and their families volunteered to make the telethon a success. But few took it as personally as Kat Hiltner, the health and safety manager at The Palace, and her daughter, Nicki - who happened to be a Wish Kid herself. They went on a Disney Cruise in Florida last summer when Nicki was 12, having just completed a year of intense cancer treatment that included chemotherapy and surgery.
Now a year cancer-free, Nicki worked Friday night with her mother as a telethon volunteer. The 13-year-old said she feels happy to help kids going through the same struggles she did not long ago. “It’s kind of giving them a present,” she said. “It’s my present to them and I feel proud for doing it.”
Shortly after the Pistons Cares Telethon was shown at the opening of the Local 4 broadcast, the call center - normally where the postgame press conference is held - was buzzing with activity. Employees from The Palace, Rock Financial and local radio stations manned the phones, as well as players’ wives and Shock All-Star Cheryl Ford. In the center of the photo is Ivy Hunter, wife of Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter. In the right corner is Tom Bennett, vice president of human resources at The Palace.
Mike Stone from the Pistons’ flagship station, WDFN 1130 The Fan, was one of several celebrity guests in the call center. Eleven Metro Detroit radio stations broadcasted 14 shows from The Palace Friday, encouraging listeners to donate online or enter on-air contests that also raised donations. No stranger to raising money for good causes - his “Stoney and Wojo” show on WDFN hosts an annual radiothon for leukemia research - “Stoney” took calls throughout the first half of Friday’s game.
”We love it when our volunteers can (support the radiothon), so I’ll do anything to help out,” he said. “The Palace and the Pistons have been so great with me and the radio station, I’ll do anything to help them out.”
Suzie, one of the Wish Kids who will have her wish funded by the telethon (read about it here), did an interview with sideline reporter Eli Zaret during the broadcast. While Suzie doesn’t follow sports much, her two brothers got to go to their first Pistons game. Suzie’s mother, Shannon, called the night “top-notch.”
“It’s so humbling that all these people want to give, to do something for Make-A-Wish,” she said. “It’s so cool.”
More than 1,500 game-night workers were wearing Pistons Cares Telethon T-shirts Friday night, including the Spare Tires dance team during their performance in the second quarter. (Some wore it better than others.) Another 2,500 telethon T-shirts were available for purchase with a $10 donation to Make-A-Wish.