Meeting Antonio Brown and Selected as Bat Girl for Upcoming Celebrity Softball Game is Dream Come True for Johnson Elementary Student Maddie Garner

By Julie Perine on May 21, 2016 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Since he was drafted in 2010, Antonio Brown has been wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
 
That same year, Bridgeport’s Maddie Garner was five years old and undergoing her second cochlear implant surgery. Born with some of the characteristics associated with Johanson Blizzard Syndrome, Maddie was profoundly deaf until her first surgery at age 21 months.
 
While catching up with the hearing world – piecing together sounds and meanings that most take for granted – Maddie developed a passion for football and in particular, the Steelers; her favorite player – hands down – being Brown.
 
Never in her wildest dreams did she ever think she would meet him, but Maddie has found herself in a situation which according to her mom, has put her “over the moon.”

As was announced at a press conference held last week at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, 11-year-old Maddie – a fifth grader at Johnson Elementary School - will serve as bat girl in the June 11 celebrity softball game at CONSOL Energy Park in which Brown is participating and promoting.
 
“Maddie has been a long-time patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and we have selected her to be the honorary bat girl for the softball game as she is one of the biggest Antonio Brown’s fans! She will do a fantastic job,” said Brian Harman, director, Corporate and Community Giving, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.
 
At the press conference, Maddie sat shoulder to shoulder with her athletic hero.
 
“She and Antonio were taking selfies and videos together, even throwing a football around,” said her mother, Cindy Garner. “They cleared out space in the lobby on the sixth floor and all these cameras were going crazy taking pictures. It was the best day ever for her.”
 
To top it off, Brown posted a personal Facebook message and photo with Maddie that has generated more than 6,000 views.
 
Brown has gone far above and beyond any expectations which the Garner family had when they first heard about the game through a friend.
 
“My friend Kem Honaker knows how much Maddie loves Antonio and she found a link where he was heading up a celebrity softball tournament,” Garner said. “So, of course, as soon as I saw it I ordered tickets right away, thinking there might be a chance for Maddie maybe to get a glimpse of him at least.”
 
As she read more about the game, she saw that proceeds would benefit Children’s Hospital, where Maddie had both of her surgeries and visited routinely for audiology appointments.
 
“I started thinking that since she had a connection with Children’s Hospital, I would reach out to them and see if there was any way we could arrange a meet and greet for Maddie with Antonio,” she said. “I reached out because that’s what parents do, but never expecting anything to the magnitude we’ve received.”
 
Just a couple days later, the Garners received a phone call from Children’s Hospital, inviting Maddie to be honorary bat girl for the game.
 
“I just couldn’t wait to pick her up from school that day to share the exciting news with her,” Garner said.
 
Maddie said she remembers that day well.
 
“I just wanted to scream. I was so happy. I never thought I would get to meet him,” she said.
 
The family eagerly planned for the press conference, which because of Brown’s ongoing success with ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” was postponed twice. Each time, Maddie was a little disappointed, but when Brown personally called her after the second postponement, she was pretty ecstatic.
 
On May 13, the press conference finally took place and it was all that Maddie imagined and more. Both of her parents were able to accompany her on the special day. Her dad Mark is a graduate of Bridgeport High School, as is her sister Hannah. The family looks forward to the June 11 game. 
 
“They have a homerun derby set up and it’s supposed to be an interactive day with players and fans,” Cindy Garner said. “It should be a really, really fun day.”
 
The game is being held in conjunction with the Washington Wild Things semipro baseball team. Serving as honorary bat boy will be 6-year-old Max Cieply, a victim of spina bifida. Funds raised through the game will be put to great use, Harman said.
 
“Antonio’s generosity will help ensure Children's Hospital can continue to provide world-class health care to hundreds of children and families, giving them hope for a healthier future,” he said.
 
The Pittsburgh Steelers organization and many of its players and coaches have been part of the support network at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC over the years.
 
“And we are grateful and honored that Antonio Brown is carrying on that legacy,” Harman said “His support lets us fulfill our mission - giving kids a chance to be kids. We are honored that Antonio has chosen Children’s Hospital as his charity of choice for the celebrity softball game.”
 
Maddie is an honor roll student at Johnson Elementary School.
 
“She is in a mainstream classroom and works with her hearing impaired teacher, Cindy Shaver. If her teacher sees her struggling with a particular concept, Cindy can help reinforce what she is learning. For the most part, she holds her own and she utilizes an SM system in the classroom – a little adapter which attaches to her implants and her teacher wears a microphone so it’s a direct connection,” Cindy Garner said. “It filters out the background noise so she can hear what the teacher is saying.”
 
Maddie said she is drawn to Brown because he has an awesome hairstyle, is cute, funny and, of course, the best wide receiver ever. She said football became her game when she watched the boys from her school gather on the schoolyard after dismissal to play. One day, she joined in and found out how much she liked the sport. She has also been playing a little softball so she can become more familiar with the sport and adequately fulfill her bat girl responsibilities. In addition to sports, she likes to entertain and took part in Johnson Elementary School’s talent show this year and last year. Last year, she sang “We Will Rock You” and this year she and her friends did a dance routine to “Freaks Like Me” from the TV reality show, “Dance Moms.”
 
She was diagnosed at five months of age with a hearing impairment after failing a series of newborn hearing screenings. Up to that point, it was believed that she had amniotic fluid in her ear canal and that it would dissipate. After a series of tests, it was discovered that she had bilateral sensory hearing loss. It was later discovered that Maddie had a pancreatic insufficiency that is common with victims of cystic fibrosis, but she did not test positive for that condition. Maddie does have some other anomalies which are associated with Johanson Blizzard Syndrome.
 
“Maddie is a walking testimony of what can happen if you persevere and we are so thankful for this opportunity,” Cindy said. “She’s just a spunky little girl and we are over the moon for her.” 


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