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When he was a youngster, Drew Lighthall loved sports. He didn’t particularly care which sport, he loved them all and played many.
While he grew out of playing them, he still enjoyed them as a spectator.
But nearly five years ago, Lighthall accidently overdosed on pain medication and died.
His mom, Sharon Kirkpatrick, thought the best way to honor his memory was to help other kids enjoys sports, as well.
And thus was born the Santa Fe-based Smiles from Drew (smilesfromdrew.com).
“He was in every kind of sport imaginable,” Kirkpatrick said. “When he passed away, I didn’t know what to do. I decided to come up with a way to help kids.”
These days, playing sports can be an expensive proposition, she said, so she wanted to help those who couldn’t afford to pay for registration fees.
So far, her one-woman organization that is registered as a 501(c)3, has helped about 20 young athletes pay for registrations for such sports as baseball, basketball and football.
Smiles from Drew also sponsors teams that need a little help, Kirkpatrick said.
“We tend to sponsor baseball teams, help pay for their uniforms and other things,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to somebody, she’s coaching basketball for a 3rd- and 4th-grade team in Santa Fe. They didn’t have money to pay for the uniforms, so they were playing in regular T-shirts with duct tape numbers.”
Kirkpatrick turned to social media and was able to raise the money for the team to have real uniforms.
In addition to social media, Smiles from Drew holds small fundraisers to help create a small war chest to help young athletes in need.
“I’m mostly by myself,” Kirkpatrick said. “I can sometimes guilt some friends into helping me. But for the most part, it’s me being very tenacious and bugging people. I do bake sales. I do a lot of crafts to help pay for stuff. I use my own money.”
Whatever it takes to get the job done, she said.
It’s all to honor her son.
“His love was football from when he was 6 until he went into middle school,” Kirkpatrick said. “He played baseball and rugby. He did chess club and took guitar lessons. I thought it was always important to keep them busy and active.”
As he got older, “he lost his interest,” she said. “He wasn’t into the huge competitive thing. He was there to have fun. But he was great linebacker when he was younger. He was awesome and he had so much fun doing it.”
A graduate of Tierra Encantada, Lighthall was 20 and trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life when he died.
“He was just such a great kid,” Kirkpatrick said. “He had a really contagious smile. His saying was, ‘You never know when a smile could change someone’s life.’ If a friend needed someone to talk to, he was always right there.”
As she was preparing for his funeral, Kirkpatrick took some time to reflect.
“I was sitting in our chapel and I was just having these thoughts of football,” she recalled. “I thought I ought to try and help some kids play some football in his memory and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Kirkpatrick, who was a single mom working at the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department, said it was tough to afford getting her children into different activities.
“Getting them active in sports was hard at times,” she said. “I did it, but it was hard. Santa Fe is so expensive. I did it, but it was so expensive.”
But it is so important to get children involved, Kirkpatrick said.
“The thing is they learn so much,” she said. “Not just the activity and learning the fundamentals of the sport. They learn how to win and they learn how to lose. They learn how to take directions. They learn how to work as a team. And, with Drew, he actually figured out geometry by playing baseball. It can all correlate. You get a good coach, they become family. It’s a wonderful thing to find out what a kid is passionate about and be able to foster that.”