When the El Campo Ricebirds hear their fight song on a football Friday night, it’s their signal to sprint through the giant inflatable tunnel and on the sidelines.
Against the Port Lavaca Calhoun Sandcrabs, the Ricebirds did not sprint to the sidelines, instead, they walked out of the tunnel holding three signs high. The signs read: “Ricebirds fight with Charlie,” Charlie Strong,” and “All In For Charlie Battle Big.”
Unbeknownst to El Campo Head Coach Wayne Condra, the team decided before the game to show support for their young fan.
The Charlie the Ricebirds chose to honor is seven-year-old Charlie Van Eman from College Station. Charlie is in the midst of a battle with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve endings.
“(The team) decided that there was a young man who’s a big Ricebird fan battling cancer and they wanted to show their support for him, I thought it was tremendous,” Condra said following the game.
Charlie might not be from El Campo, but he’s become a big fan of the team from afar.
Bill Van Eman, Charlie’s dad, became friends with Edgar Erwin after meeting in college at Texas A&M. Erwin is the father of Ricebird’s sophomore Swiss Army knife Hal Erwin and through his journey, the Van Emans have become fans of a team 119 miles away.
When learning about the battle the seven-year-old is fighting, the team sprung into action trying to do what they could to bring some brightness to a kid who’s fighting as hard off the field as the Ricebirds try to fight each and every Friday night.
The team signed a football for him and sent the family Ricebird shirts. Charlie even got two jerseys, including a black jersey sporting the number four of El Campo’s sophomore running back Rueben Owens ll. On Twitter Owens, shared a photo of a smiling Charlie wearing his number four and, announced he was dedicating this season for him.
Through three games, Owens has six rushing touchdowns, surpassing his 2019 output.
At the end of the week with the help of the cheerleaders who made the signs, they let the fans on El Campo’s sidelines knew they were playing for something more.
“It feels great to see a smile on (Charlie’s) face while wearing the jersey,” Erwin said. “Him wearing it and his little brothers wearing Ricebird shirts is really cool to see.”
Erwin wasn’t sure what they were going to do for Charlie next, but he knew they weren’t done showing him their support.
Charlie’s road is a long one. The seven-year-old is undergoing chemotherapy which will stop the spread of his cancer so future treatments can hopefully defeat it. The young Ricebird fan looking at another 12 to 15 months of his fight, his father said.
“Charlie inspires my wife and I on a daily basis with his positive attitude. Despite all he is going through, he still smiles as big as he always has,” he said. “He and his brothers have been wearing their Ricebird t-shirts every week since they got them and Ruben’s jersey is hanging on Charlie’s door. All three of them ask when they are going to get to go to an El Campo football game. We will make that happen as soon as Charlie’s treatment schedule allows it.”
Childhood cancer is something the Ricebirds care deeply about.
During the 2109 season, the Ricebirds raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital by having fans pledge money for every touchdown they scored during September.
In total the team raised more than $1,300 dollars for the cause.