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Weis gets personal in talk on disabilities

Lisa Schultz | Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Swamped with over 150 appearance requests since accepting his new position, Irish head football coach Charlie Weis made it clear Monday night that the topic of disabilities awareness is “a heck of a lot more important than football.”

“Once in a while, [a request to speak] is something that touches our family,” Weis said about his decision to accept a request from Notre Dame’s Best Buddies organization to speak as part of Disabilities Awareness Week.

Weis’ nine-year-old daughter Hannah is globally developmentally delayed. From birth, Hannah has “fallen under a lot of umbrellas,” Weis said, including diagnoses of polycystic kidney disease, autism and pervasive developmental disorder.

Weis is not reluctant to use his fame to raise awareness about disabilities such as his daughter’s. Although Hannah has made strides, he said there is still work to be done.

“I promise you as long as I’m here, awareness will be heightened,” Weis said.

After Weis recovered from a “near-death operation” in 2002, the coach’s family founded its own charity – Hannah & Friends – for people affected by autism and global delays. Weis and wife Maura decided it was time to use his visibility as a National Football League coach to help people with disabilities other than Hannah.

“I have some resources most people don’t have,” Weis said. The charity recently organized a Myrtle Beach golf outing that attracted celebrities including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The quarterback also serves on the Hannah & Friends Board of Directors.

In the long term, Weis and his wife plan to build a farm with a petting zoo, horse stables and a home for four young adults with disabilities who can work the farm. Hannah will be one of those four residents.

“When Hannah gets on a horse, she’s not worried about what the horse thinks of her,” Weis said. He also mentioned that a recent milestone for Hannah was being able to swim in the ocean during a recent family vacation to the beach.

Best Buddies, an organization that pairs people with disabilities with a friend in an effort to integrate the disabled into society, chose Weis because of his prominence and popularity.

“We thought it’d be great to get someone well-known so that people would come to see him and then maybe get involved,” co-president of Best Buddies junior Kat Roblez said.

Weis commended the Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s community for being “so proactive” about disabilities awareness.

“You should be proud of what you do,” Weis said to the Best Buddies who attended the talk.