Arizona Cardinals partner with Mikey’s League for day of fun

TEMPE — Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi made a new friend on Saturday, 23-year-old Jake Capstick.

Not long after Ndubuisi, a Cardinals rookie offensive lineman from Nigeria, met Capstick at a football skills camp for 40 kids and young adults from Mikey’s League, he was pushing Capstick up and down the field inside the Cardinals’ practice bubble. Even in one-on-one drills, when Ndubuisi helped Capstick run with the ball or defend another player, the two of them joyously smiling and laughing as onlookers cheered.

And when there was a break in the nearly two hours of football and fun, Ndubuisi was right by Capstick’s side, chatting with him and inviting teammates to show off their dance moves to the music of a live deejay.

“I have a younger brother who is sick, too,” Ndubuisi said. Capstick reminded Ndubuisi of his brother in Africa, and instantly a bond was built.

Jun 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Haggai Ndubuisi (69) and safety Tae Daley (48) hoist Brandon Fischer, 14, to celebrate him catching the ball during a youth football camp at the Cardinals' training facility.

Capstick deals with cerebral palsy. But he loves football and plays the flag version of it, and is often one of the first players picked for teams because he can use a pool noodle on his lap to make tackles.

If the pool noodle touches the ball carrier, he or she is ruled down.

The skills camp, in which players and participants interacted with drills such as throwing and catching passes, pass coverage and route running and an agility relay, was planned by Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck and Karl Bender, co-founder of locally-based Mikey’s League. The organization helps people with disabilities play sports in an inclusive environment, and what would normally have been a practice was moved inside the Cardinals’ bubble with more of an atmosphere.

There was almost as much dancing as football being played. Luketa and a youngster did the Griddy, the dance routine popular among young people after being made famous by NFL players to celebrate touchdowns starting in 2020.

Jun 18, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Preston Pappas, 19, looks to pass the ball while being pressured by Brandon Fischer, 14, and Kyle Lewis, 20, in a scrimmage during a youth football camp at the Cardinals' training facility.

Bender’s younger brother Mikey dealt with cerebral palsy his whole life, but did so with courage and never let it stop him from playing sports.

While Bender was deployed to Iraq, Mikey passed away at age 21. Bender was sent home to be with his family, and just after he’d left an explosive device decimated his military unit.

“He saved my life,” Bender said. “If I was there, I wouldn’t be here. My mom would have been burying two kids. And so I always felt very passionate about doing something in his memory.”

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