You can’t have a Super Bowl without a little spectacle. So it was fitting that the game ball for Saturday’s Tooele County 911 Super Bowl was delivered by a University of Utah AirMed helicopter — and the delivery was performed by a veritable rock star.
Makenna Roberts, 14, was the star of the show and the beneficiary of a new annual tradition — a charity flag football game between law enforcement and medical personnel. Makenna, who lives in Stansbury Park, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in March.
When Makenna disembarked the helicopter, which landed in the middle of the Stansbury High School football field, she was clutching the official game ball. She stopped for pictures with both teams prior to kickoff.
On the sidelines, as the game began and the west bleachers neared capacity, Makenna cracked a smile.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s so cool.”
Her father, Don Roberts, said turnout for the first-time event, in the midst of the Stansbury Days festivities, was more than he expected.
“It’s incredibly humbling,” he said.
Makenna’s mother, Shelli Roberts, described the support from the community for her daughter and her family as incredible.
“It makes me want to cry,” she said. “The community has been so supportive of Makenna and everything that we’ve done … We’ve been blessed with so many prayers on our behalf, for our family and for Makenna.”
Makenna was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma on March 15, a date that sticks in the collective memories of the Roberts family.
Ewing sarcoma is a rare form of bone cancer that is more common in teenagers and young adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease most often occurs in the bones, but can also begin in soft tissue in the arms, legs or abdomen.
Treatment for Ewing sarcoma follows the common pattern of many types of cancer, with rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Shelli Roberts said Makenna is about halfway through radiation treatments but has another year of chemotherapy ahead.
Makenna’s battle with cancer has affected the whole Roberts family and has put their priorities into perspective, Shelli Roberts said.
“We’ve learned what’s important,” she said. “We’ve learned that our family is important and we’ve learned to roll with the punches.”
With the adversity facing Makenna and her family, selecting the beneficiary of the first 911 Super Bowl wasn’t a difficult choice for Shelli Roberts’s co-workers at Mountain West Medical Center. Event organizer and emergency room nurse Mardi Munn said the idea for the game came first, but both teams wanted to give back to the community.
“The medical personnel wanted to do a flag football game against law enforcement because they work together all the time,” Munn said. “But we didn’t want to just do the game, we wanted to do it for someone.”
The idea for the game first came up during Tooele County’s high school graduations this spring, according to Munn.
“So we really threw it together really fast,” she said.
Despite how quickly the event came together, there was plenty to see and do throughout the evening.
Debbie Winn, Tooele City mayor and Makenna’s grandmother, sang the national anthem. The Stansbury High School band performed throughout the game, as did cheerleaders from Tooele High and Stansbury High, and the Tooele High drill team.
There were food trucks on site and a raffle with prizes including free skydiving, Utah Grizzlies tickets and a painting.
Like any first-time event, it didn’t start without a few hitches, though some were beyond the control of organizers.
The dramatic helicopter entrance featuring Makenna, for instance, came about an hour after the game was supposed to kick off. The Tooele-based medical helicopter had to respond to a call, so AirMed had to fly in another one from Bountiful to pick up Makenna and make it to the game.
As a result of the late start, the game was shortened to 20 minute halves, down from the 30 minute halves that were originally planned.
Despite the early hiccups, however, the Tooele County 911 Super Bowl rewarded the patient crowd with what they hoped — a football game and a couple hours of entertainment.
On the field, the game was a defensive struggle, featuring numerous interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
The law enforcement team featured representatives from Tooele City, Salt Lake City and West Valley City police departments, Tooele County Sheriff’s Office, and Utah Highway Patrol. Players on the medical team represented AirMed, Mountain West Ambulance, Mountain West Medical Center staff, and Tooele Army Depot Fire Department. The refs for the game were Salt Lake City police officers, according to Munn.
When the dust settled on the game, the medical team came away victorious, 13-0. Mountain West paramedic Mark Herrera said he expects the game, and experience surrounding it, to be even better next year.
“Beyond us wanting to win, of course, on both teams, I love that we were able to get everyone out here,” Herrera said. “And for this being the first year, it’s amazing to me. It gives me chills, the amount of support we have. It’s just amazing. So next year will be even better.”
While the law enforcement team didn’t manage to win, Tooele City Police Detective Jason Spencer said it was fun to play a friendly game of flag football with people they work with.
“It’s an unfortunate loss but it’s for a good cause,” Spencer said. “I think it’s just fun to come together as a community and do this.”
By the end of the game, the preliminary returns showed the game raised more than $3,000 for Makenna and her family. Munn said the goal is to make the Tooele County 911 Super Bowl an annual event, with a different individual, charity, or cause as the recipient.