Coming full circle

When Rick Matta lost one of his sons, Chris, to leukemia in 1992 at age 12, Matta didn’t go into a shell as many understandably do, but pressed forward through the emotional haze to help others. 

“I wanted to do something in his memory, but I couldn’t for a couple of years,” Matta admits. 

In 1994, he started Pro Athletes Alumni, with which he’s been able to partner professional athletes with his fundraising efforts. 

“The loss of a child causes so much wear and tear on people, mentally and physically – many families just shut down.  You see anger, isolation…they just shut out the world.  It’s something I couldn’t wish on anyone,” Matta understates.

“I saw a way to use the athletes’ connections that I had and take what I’d gone through to assist others.  There truly was work to be done.”

Matta has coached at all levels, himself, from youth sports through high school. 

“Sometimes people who get involved don’t realize the full impact of what they’re doing until they see it come around full circle,” he elaborates. 

“A real life example involves brothers Corey and Travis Wilson.  Travis was a standout receiver at the University of Oklahoma.  He went on to play for the Cleveland Browns.  But after his younger brother, Corey, was paralyzed in a car accident, ending his own Sooner playing days – and severely altering his life – Travis got to come finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys, so as to be close to Corey.

“I’d coached Travis with my own older sons, and I got to see Travis, the person, come full circle this way.  You start to see the effect your efforts can have.”

Speaking of the University of Oklahoma, Coach Bob Stoops has been instrumental in helping others with his Bob Stoops Champions Foundation.  “Coach Stoops doesn’t want any public credit for his charity work,” Matta explains, “but he’s done a lot and we’re partnering with his charity on an upcoming golf tournament.  When Corey was paralyzed, the coach got him a fully equipped van he could use.  Frankly, Corey wasn’t even one of his guys, but Stoops was there for him.”

“We’re also working with the Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home.  They’ve been helping children and families for more than a century, taking in abused kids who have nowhere else to turn.”  Cumberland began in 1904 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and moved to Denton in 1932.

“We’re putting on a dinner gala and golf tournament for them in May.  These are the types of events that we specialize in to help where we can. We’ve been fortunate to have the links to athletes with Pro Athletes Alumni.” 

“We’ve been in touch with former star quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, and Steve Young.  Kelly, who also lost a son, founded Kelly for Kids and Hunter’s Hope.  Warren Moon started the Crescent Moon Foundation; Steve Young spearheaded the Forever Young Foundation.”

Matta has been able to help with efforts to aid those willing to donate much needed bone marrow.  “Not only is there a very limited supply of donors, worldwide, but even when there are people willing to come forward, they have to be matched to people with the same type.  This greatly reduces the ability to save lives.  On top of that, there’s been a $75 fee just to test the marrow for matching.  This further reduces the roles of donors, especially with lower economic groups.

“We’ve been able to help offset that through our work with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).  I’m just so thankful that so many people have been dedicated to the cause and shown the compassion to make a difference.”

As for Matta’s community efforts, he served as the Vice Present for Easter Seals of Greater Dallas for several years prior to his current position as Owner/President of Pro Athletes Alumni.  But wait, there’s more:  He’s doing this while holding down the position of Branch Manager of PointBank on FM 2499 in Flower Mound. 

“Between the charity work and the regular job, going some 70 hours per week – with a family — I did reach a point where I was just running out of energy and was going to back off some,” Matta concedes.  “I’d been selected as a recipient of a Volunteer of the Year award from the NMDP.  I almost didn’t even go to the ceremony, but thought better of that. 

While I was there, a woman came up to me and asked, ‘Do you mind if I give you a hug?’  She was wearing a bandana on her head.  It turned out that she was there to meet her match – the person who’d donated the bone marrow that had saved her life!  After experiencing something that powerful, I felt compelled to stay involved.”

“The work we do is not only seeing people come full circle to help out, but also a passing of the baton, seeing those you’ve helped, help others in need.  So far, we’ve raised over $2 million.”

As for Corey Wilson, his attitude is inspiring.  He recently told The Oklahoman newspaper, “We just want to give back.  Growing up, we had a lot of opportunities, and we’d love the opportunity to give back…I grew up as Corey Wilson the football player, and now it feels good to just be Corey Wilson.  The future is really looking bright.”

Matta beams, “We’ve put on celebrity golf tournaments, softball games, million dollar holes-in-one…even wiffleball games!  Wherever we can bring our marketing appeal, we want to help out.”

Matta and Pro Athletes Alumni organization can be reached at: [email protected] or 214-597-4191.

Contact John LaVine at [email protected]

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