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Record crowd attends women’s basketball ‘Leo Night’

February 25, 2015

Over 700 people showed up to support Assistant Coach Mike Babler’s grandson, Leo, and the UWRF women’s basketball team during “Leo Night” on Feb. 14 at the Karges Center.

A total of 702 people attended the game between UWRF and UW-Whitewater, on a night that helped raise money for Leo. The 702 people in attendance is a new record for the women’s basketball program, surpassing the previous record of 681.

Part of the record breaking crowd cheers on the UWRF women's basketball team.
Part of the record breaking crowd cheers on the UWRF women’s basketball team. “Leo Night” helped draw the
largest crowd in the history of Falcon women’s basketball with 702 people in the Karges Center. (Kathy M Helgeson/University Communications)

Leo was born on May 5, 2014, with a rare genetic disorder called Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata (RCDP), a form of dwarfism and a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia. The major features of this disorder include: skeletal abnormalities, distinctive facial features, intellectual disability, and respiratory problems.

Before the game, Babler wanted to break the women’s basketball attendance record, and he got what he wanted and more. The atmosphere in the gym was electric.

“When the gym fills up it is a different environment,” Babler said.

Babler and the players were overwhelmed by the turnout and response by the community. The whole experience was humbling and very emotional, according to Babler.

“I was ecstatic,” said sophomore guard Randi Mehus. “Our coaching staff and everyone behind the scenes worked so hard to put the night all together and it turned out perfect.”

Shirts were sold for $15 during the event and there also was a silent auction in which many local businesses donated items to be auctioned off. The family created the “Leo Lionhearted Fund” on gofundme.com where all donations made go to the family for medical expenses and anything else Leo needs. Over $14,000 has already been raised on the gofundme.com page.

“Gratitude for all the people that took time out of their Valentine’s Day and busy schedules to come support such a great cause,” said sophomore forward Kate Theisen. “Especially all the students that showed up, getting that much support from campus as well as other student athletes was amazing.”

Leo and his family still have many struggles ahead but the donations should help. Leo recently had his fifth eye surgery to remove protein build up, but Babler said he is doing well after the surgery.

As far as the basketball game goes, the Falcons were energized at the start but were unable to close out the game, losing 74-67 to Whitewater. The loss brought the women’s record to 9-14 overall and 4-10 in the WIAC. The game was also the Falcons’ last home game of the year.

Babler thought the team played well even though the result was a loss and is proud of how the team has played all year.

“I thought we played well all year,” Babler said. “They work hard all the time.”

The average home attendance for the season is 232 people. The season high for home attendance before “Leo Night” was 250 back on Dec. 3 against UW-Superior. With a crowd that was almost three times larger than the previous high, the game had a different atmosphere.

“It’s always nice to play at home and have a good crowd,” Theisen said. “With a higher energy in the gym, it’s hard not to feel more energized.”

Babler did not know yet how much was raised during the event as some donations still needed to be confirmed. He also said they have raised enough money for now and at the moment has no plans for another Leo Night.

Donations can still be made to the Lionhearted Fund however, to donate you can visit: www.gofundme.com/cfgmts.