Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Christy Etters admits she was never much of a football fan. But she's become a huge fan of football fans.
Her conversion is traced to Feb. 7, when an impromptu online fundraiser on Rivals.com provided enough money to purchase a service dog for her autistic son, Jackson.
"I had no clue [the money was being raised]. I'm not a big sports person," said Etters, a resident of Conway, Ark. "I'll watch the Super Bowl and the [Dallas] Cowboys. And if a Razorbacks game is on, we'll watch that because in Arkansas that's the thing to do. We've been to two games.
Every time somebody would make a donation, we'd get an email. We were wondering how people knew about him. By bedtime, we'd had $4,000 in donations and we were just in tears.
— Christy Etters
"I've never heard of Rivals, but I talked to the associate pastor at my church and he said it was the biggest college football Web site out there. I said, 'Well, that's good to know.' "
The family realized a need for a service dog because Jackson, who turns 6 in March, has a tendency to suddenly run. He once ran into oncoming traffic while Christy was getting his baby sister out of the car.
Through a series of fundraisers, the family had raised $3,500. But they still were $10,000 short of the goal needed to purchase the dog.
That's when Tony Stanley, whose autistic son attended the same school as Jackson but whom the Etterses never had met, posted a thread on the Rivals.com recruiting message board urging members to make small donations to firstgiving.com to help cover expenses for Jackson's dog.
The request turned into a competition among fans of different teams. By the next Monday, more than $10,000 had been raised.
"That Saturday evening I came home and we had 43 emails saying someone had made donations to our page," Etters said. "We were going crazy. Every time somebody would make a donation, we'd get an email. We were wondering how people knew about him. The messages would say, 'Go Bama' or 'Hook 'em' and all this sports terminology.
"We didn't know anybody in Alabama, so we were wondering how this was possible. By bedtime, we'd had $4,000 in donations and we were just in tears."
There is a waiting list for dogs trained by Autism Service Dogs of America in Lake Oswego, Ore. Jackson is scheduled to receive his dog in the spring of 2010, but in a best-case scenario, he could get one this fall.
That would seem appropriate. That's football season.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.