POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) — A group of Ohio State football players being paid to sign autographs isn’t an unusual sight anymore.
“We do autograph signings all the time, but this one is special,” said freshman running back Treveyon Henderson while autographing a football for a young fan at Olentangy Liberty high school.
On a Friday night in late January, this group of Buckeyes lined up at a long table are earning money; but, every signature is a sign of support.
The funds from this event are going to the Natalie Gray Foundation: an organization inspired by 14-year-old Natalie from Powell.
“I have brain cancer,” Natalie said. “I have a pilocytic astrocytoma which is a tumor. So right now I’m going through chemo to try to keep it under control.”
Natalie has been battling brain cancer since July of 2021 when doctors diagnosed her with an inoperable brain tumor. She had two surgeries in five days, and while recovering in her hospital bed she decided she wanted to make a difference.
“She kept asking, ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me?’ And I said, ‘You have to play the hand that you’re dealt,’” said Natalie’s mom, Jennifer. “She said how she felt so fortunate being in the hospital and having the resources that she had at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the family support and everything and she really just wanted to give back.”
The Natalie Gray Foundation for Pediatric Brain Tumors may have been Natalie’s brain child, but the goal is to help anyone with pediatric brain cancer.
“There is a lot of research that needs to be done,” explained Jennifer. “Pediatric brain cancer is severely underfunded.”
Which brings us back to that Friday night at Olentangy Liberty High School when six Ohio State football players came together to sign autographs in the hope of helping with that funding.
“I mean it’s really an honor, you know?” said defensive end Zach Harrison who graduated from Olentangy Orange just eight miles away. “When I got the call that this an opportunity for me to do, to help a family out, help multiple families out especially in my community in Olentangy — I didn’t think twice about it.”
“They not only showed up but they got up and greeted with huge smiles and they wanted to give big hugs!” Jennifer said. “They are big hugs! I think I said that when I went through the line they were like, ‘Are you gonna give hugs?’ and I was like, ‘Uh, yeah!'” she and Natalie said in unison followed by giggles.
Natalie wasn’t even sure if she was going to make it to the autograph event. The day before, she’d had an intense round of chemotherapy. After a lot of sleep, she forged ahead and was overwhelmed by the generosity, energy and support she received.
“Oh this lifted me up a lot! I wasn’t sure how many people would come,” she said looking around the room, eyes wide. “I don’t feel sick anymore! It’s just so amazing.”
For more information or to donate to the Natalie Gray Foundation, click here.