In a playroom on the sixth floor of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, a table meant for arts and crafts was being tested for how many participants it could handle.
Seated around the table were a few patients at the hospital working on crafts and decorating paper pumpkins. In between them were large men, large enough to play professional football.
They were indeed professional football players from the Cleveland Browns.
Browns tight end David Njoku, guards Justin McCray, Joel Bitonio and Drew Forbes, and linebackers Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson and Joe Schobert made a special visit Tuesday to the hospital to celebrate Halloween with patients.
As most of the group continued craft work, Bitonio and McCray donned capes and moved to a smaller table to work on pumpkins with a patient seated in a red wagon. Meanwhile, Njoku found himself locked in a friendly game of Connect Four.
In a best-of-three series, Njoku and 13-year-old patient Xiaron Vales went disc for disc, filling the grid with their colored pieces in an attempt to best their opponent.
Players visited the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospitals on October 29, 2019 for a Halloween at the Hospital event.
Vales won the game, but the competition wasn’t finished. The two moved to a nearby air hockey table for a final showdown.
After going back and forth, matching goals in a game to 10, they reached a 9-9 tie. Njoku upped the ante from bragging rights to a material prize: the jersey on his back.
With the stakes high and the pressure on, Njoku rolled up his sweatshirt sleeves. Vales responded by removing her hospital gown, which she was wearing over her own sweatsuit.
Vales connected with the winning shot, driving the puck into Njoku’s goal. Game, set, match.
Njoku, playfully distraught over the loss, removed his jersey, laid it on the table and signed it “Well played. You are the G.O.A.T.” before handing it over and congratulating her on the victory.
“It was fun,” Njoku said afterward. “She was competitive, she was quiet but very competitive. I peeped that and I was like OK I’ll take it and run with this.”
Bitonio was able to interact with the patients through similar games and crafts. As a recently new father, he felt additional importance to help brighten the patients’ day.
“(Bitonio’s daughter is) almost 10 months now, and just seeing the fun things I’ve been able to do with her, to come over here and do some of those things with these kids is pretty cool and special, man,” Bitonio said. “Kids are just so loving and they can’t do anything wrong so it’s cool to be around them and share their fun energy.”
The Browns also spent time designing special superhero capes and masks with the patients on multiple floors and made special room visits, too, to include as many patients as possible in the festivities. Through Browns Give Back, the team is dedicated to spend time volunteering in the community.
On Tuesday, they did that and more, creating memories and special moments for kids who don’t get many of those as they spend time receiving medical care.
“Anytime you come out in the community and meet some new people,” Bitonio said, “meet some new fans, these kids are going through a lot right now but just for us to come out here, it really makes our day to play some games, decorate some pumpkins and kind of share the Halloween spirit.”