The University Record, January 14, 2002

Young Wolverine gets his citrus wish

By Susan Farley
University Record

Todd Howard (above) poses with Merritt.
Thanks to quick action over the holidays by several U-M departments and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a 12-year-old boy’s dream of meeting the Wolverine football team came true.

Levi Merritt, from Frankfort, Ohio, has been huge fan of the team for as long as his parents can remember. When Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Ohio called his mother, Jackie, in November to say they would grant Levi a wish, the young man knew exactly what his request would be—the chance to see his favorite Wolverines play before many of them graduate.

Scott Draper, administrative associate of athletics, is one of several people at U-M who helped Merritt become “a Wolverine for the day.” At the time the young fan made his request to Make-A-Wish, Draper says there was only one game left in the season—the Citrus Bowl.

Make-A-Wish flew Merritt, his parents and his older sister to Florida to watch the Citrus Bowl

Jan. 1. Bowl organizers provided game tickets to the boy and his family. Draper says Merritt got to meet the Wolverines, including his favorite players, when the University provided access to football practice the day before the big game. Jim Schneider, information officer of athletics, said head football coach Lloyd Carr had Merritt “right in the middle of the field where the guys were stretching.”

Coach Lloyd Carr (above right) shares a moment before the game. (Photos courtesy of Merritt family)
Merritt’s mother was confused at first when Kathy O’Leary from Make-A-Wish of Southern Ohio called because she was under the impression a child had to be dying in order to be granted a wish. But O’Leary told her that Make-A-Wish also grants wishes to children who had life-threatening illnesses.

When Merritt was 9-years-old, he rapidly started showing symptoms of illness, but no one was able to properly diagnose the problem, says his mother. Later it was revealed that Merritt had a rare form of malignant spinal cord tumors, she says. After a series of radiation treatments, Levi is no longer ill.

To make Merritt’s wish a reality, O’Leary contacted Jessica Lindsey from the Metro Lansing office of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, who, in turn, contacted the University. The Office of the Vice President for Government Relations, the Alumni Association and the Athletic department all had a hand in granting Merritt his wish.

“That little boy loves Michigan,” said his father, Doug Merritt. “I just can’t put it into words how much.” The senior Merritt adds that his son plays pee-wee football as a tailback and hopes to play college football for Michigan.

“I’ll see you in six years,” says Levi Merritt.