DAHLONEGA - The temperature was cool outside, but it was hot, hot, hot inside Wednesday evening at the University of North Georgia men’s basketball game.
And instead of cheers for the university’s Nighthawks, chants of “Aloha, Joseph!” filled the air.
Calhoun resident Joseph Tippins, now 11, was first diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma when he was 9. With his cancer now in remission, Joseph along with his mother, brother and two friends, got to spend the entire day at the university, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Along with being treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the school and becoming an honorary Nighthawks basketball player — No. 10 — Joseph was told his wish of going to Hawaii was going to come true, with a five-day trip to Maui planned for April.
“The only place tropical I really get to go is Florida,” he said about why he wanted to go to Hawaii. “So I like tropical stuff, and I’m proud.”
But while he’s looking forward to the trip, Joseph admitted it wasn’t the coolest part of the day.
“When they came to pick us up, there was a cop car and it was like a van,” Joseph said. “We were about to get in the back seat and the cop said not to get in the back seat, just get in the front. I got in the front, and I knew something was going to happen.
“We started driving down the road and he said ‘Just twist that little knob right there,’” Joseph said, a smile spreading across his face. “And the sirens just turned on and then he said ‘Press this button,’ and the horn turned on. It was just so cool, and everyone pulled over so we could go straight to here.”
When they got to Dahlonega, Joseph and his family and friends were escorted around in part by student Bridget Sandy, who had a wish of her own fulfilled by Make-A-Wish when she was a young cancer patient.
“I think it really hit home,” she said. “The fact that it’s all intertwined, and it’s made me more of a Make-A-Wish gung-ho fundraiser. ... For him to be given his wish right there and to be a part of it was, like, awesome.”
After touring the Dahlonega campus, Joseph led the men’s basketball team onto the court and helped the players warm up. He was announced as the honorary player of the night, sporting the No. 10 jersey that had been signed by all the players.
A special seat was reserved for him to watch the game, but before getting to relax Joseph enjoyed pizza and took pictures with the school’s athletic teams.
His mother spoke with tears in her eyes about how she was not expecting the extreme reception for her son.
“It was amazing,” Tammy Tippins said. “They just said they were going to do a party for Joseph and it was going to be at the basketball game. But it was just really amazing. It took me by surprise.”
She said her son has been cancer-free for a little more than a year, but returns to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite every three months for testing. He will be considered cured once he hits the five-year mark of being cancer-free.
The University of North Georgia is one of five NCAA Division II schools in the country recognized for its contributions to the Make-A-Wish Foundation; in 2012-13, the university raised $11,223. The university has donated the highest amount of money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in two of the past three years.
Make-A-Wish is a national program dedicated to granting the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
After Wednesday’s big event, Joseph and his family have only a little more than a month to pack and get ready for the Hawaiian adventure. But he already has big plans for the trip.
“Swimming with the dolphins and swimming around an underwater volcano,” he said. “I was wanting to go skydiving, but I’m not 18 but technically I am because I’ve been 1 and 8. It works that way, if you think about it.”