A number of North America’s top professional athletes descended on the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, the other week, responding to an invitation by none other than country music superstar and noted humanitarian Garth Brooks. For a city largely associated with glitz and glamour, the purpose of their visit was nothing if not deserved. Vancouver Whitecaps FC players Jay DeMerit, Joe Cannon, John Thorrington, Jordan Harvey, and Michael Nanchoff were all on the VIP list for the year end party thrown by Garth Brook’s charity, Teammates For Kids Foundation, demonstrating that ’Caps players have as much heart off the field as on. Before the two day celebration was done, keeper Cannon would also prove that his talents extended far beyond blocking shots when the part-time crooner took to the main-stage to perform in front of thousands at the Wynn Theatre.
Established in 1999, Garth Brook’s Teammates For Kids Foundation was founded with one goal in mind, to be able to raise money to help other charitable children’s organizations in the areas of health, education, and inner city youth. Since their inception almost 13 years ago, the foundation has received pledges of support from over three thousand professional athletes across a wide spectrum of sports including soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. One unique quality of the foundation is that 100 percent of every dollar pledged by the athletes goes directly to children’s charities such as the Whitecaps Foundation. Athletes are encouraged to make a commitment to the foundation prior to the start of the season by pledging a dollar amount to correspond with performance statistics such as goals scored, shots blocked, team wins, shutouts and the likes. It’s a truly original idea that has proven to be a win-win for both the players and the charity as athletes are able to celebrate their success with the community organizations they help sponsor.
Many may not realize, but Garth Brooks has a deep appreciation for sports. “Sports have always held a special place in Garth’s life and spending time in spring training with a number of baseball clubs is certainly a testament to that,” Jason Grahame, the director for the Teammates For Kids Foundation explained. “Soccer has long been one of his favourite sports, and is a passion he shares with all three of his daughters who love to play.”
Garth Brooks also maintains his own pledge to his foundation with a commitment to personally triple every player’s donation, together helping them give upwards of 83 million dollars over the course of the foundation’s history.
With Garth Brooks performing regularly at the Wynn Theatre, the Wynn Hotel provided the perfect setting to cap off a season of giving. “The party was just our way of saying thanks to all the athletes and donors who have helped us in 2011,” said Grahame. “It’s a really fun way for us to show our appreciation.”
A celebrity party in Vegas is the kind of thing movie scripts are written about, so when Whitecaps FC keeper Cannon caught wind that Garth wanted to celebrate another successful year he jumped at the opportunity. The two night affair started off with a karaoke contest, where teammate Thorrington convinced Cannon to perform.
“I only karaoked because I promised John I would. He said if I karaoke he would get the crowd involved, that was the deal.” The chance for the winner to sing on stage with Garth the following night fueled Cannon’s appetite to win as he took to the stage to perform Duran Duran’s classic song Hungry Like the Wolf. Cannon explained the reason behind his song choice, “My nephew listens to Hungry Like the Wolf all the time, so I decided to do it for him.”
The deal with Thorrington proved to be lucrative for the duo as Cannon took top billing that night. Cannon later confessed, “My dad was a singer, so I’ve got a little bit of him in me. I do have to give John credit for pushing me though. It wouldn’t have happened without that guy.”
It was performing Friends in Low Places on-stage with Garth the next night that really stole the show for Cannon. “Once I belted out the first line the crowd went nuts. It was totally surreal, I kind of got caught up in it,” said Cannon, “It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t think I could have planned anything better.”
Cannon lamented that his one regret was in not reaching out more to a Vancouverite in the crowd named Pamela who was about to have her fourth brain surgery. “The whole reason she was there was because seeing Garth was on her bucket list,” said Cannon who wanted to invite her out to a Whitecaps match, but lost contact with her after being ushered on stage, “I regret not inviting her out, I know she’d have a really great time.”
By the end of the party everyone left with a smile on their face. Teaming up with the Teammates For Kids Foundation proved a total success for all involved, and Cannon is committed to pushing for continued support this season, “It’s a really great idea and a great cause. Now that I’ve participated I really just can’t believe that everyone isn’t doing it.”
Garth Brooks Teammates For Kids Foundation will be in Vancouver later this year to present a grant cheque to the Whitecaps Foundation, made possible by athletes like Cannon and his fellow Whitecaps FC sponsors.