Bringing purple passion to a cause
Ravens fans rally behind O.J. Brigance's foundation to fight ALS
O.J. Brigance, a former Ravens player who is battling ALS, smiles as his wife, Chanda, speaks with Fred Carlson and his wife, Mary Jo, at the Fiesta 5K, a fundraiser for ALS research. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / May 5, 2012)
"I go by the fan name of Purple Dame," said Pierce, who lives in Severn and said she's missed just one home game in the past 13 years. When she cheers on her team, "I'm just head to toe in purple," wearing a No. 98 jersey for former Raven Tony Siragusa, she said.
Pierce, who was honored last year by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Hall of Fans, is involved with several Ravens fans groups, and has been urging fellow members to support the Brigance Brigade Foundation, the nonprofit organization started by former Ravens player O.J. Brigance and his wife, Chanda, after he was diagnosed in 2007 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive motor neuron disease that robs people of their ability to control their muscles.
Brigance, now senior adviser for player development for the Ravens, played for the Canadian Football League Baltimore Stallions for two years and joined the Ravens in 2000. He was on the field for the team's 2001 Super Bowl victory, making the first tackle of the game. With his Baltimore wins, he is the only professional football player to win both a Canadian Football League and a National Football League championship for the same city .
Brigance Brigade hired its first executive director, Christine Kirkley, this summer, and since then has collected more money, gained more attention, and helped more people with ALS.
Before joining the Brigance Brigade, Kirkley had been director of fundraising and community relations with the ALS Association chapter covering Maryland, Virginia and Washington. When she applied for the job, Brigance asked her to describe her plan to grow the organization over the next three to five years. The goal, he told her, was to make it as recognizable as Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Awareness is a big part of that goal. "When you say ALS, people kind of tilt their head a bit, unsure of what you're talking about," she said. "It's important for people to understand that just because you have a diagnosis doesn't mean there is no quality of life."
Brigance and his wife are demonstrating just the opposite, she said.
"The diagnosis does not define you. O.J. and Chanda are prime examples of that. They are living, truly living with the disease."
The Brigance Brigade Foundation has a budget of about $150,000, said Kirkley, with most of the funds going directly to individuals with ALS for equipment such as wheelchair ramps and lifts for going up stairs.
"Our goal is, as soon as the money comes in, we're getting it back out to the families," she said. "We're a stopgap measure."
Fan clubs, including Ravens Roosts and Ravens Nests, have helped make those contributions possible, donating around $8,000 to the organization in the past four months, said Kirkley.
"Cindy [Pierce] has been involved with these various booster clubs for many years and has met O.J. and Chanda and many of the players," said Kirkley.
Pierce said she had already been involved the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which helps people with ALS, before championing the Brigance Brigade.
"Having O.J. Brigance involved with it made it a little sweeter," she said. "It became more personal."
And once Kirkley became executive director, she said, "I suggested promoting it to the fan clubs."
Charlotte Krause is president of the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts, a nearly 50-year-old fan club formerly known as the Council of Colts Corrals. The group has about 60 chapters stretching from Virginia to Ocean City to Pennsylvania, with about 1,500 members total. She's also president of her own Ravens Roost chapter in Perry Hall.
Since 2007, the council and its branches have given about $2 million to charitable organizations, she said, and members have donated considerable hours to helping those causes. Each September, the group provides grants and invites recipients to come to the council meeting to pick up the check.
"O.J. and Chanda came to the council meeting," said Krause. "It was such an honor to meet this man. Unbelievable, the inspiration that he brings."
About the Foundation In addition to donations, the Brigance Brigade Foundation raises money through events such as the annual Celebrate Life event, this year held Jan. 26 at the Blue Hill Tavern. On Feb. 8, O.J. and Chanda will be honored with this years Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation Community Service Award at the Sports Legend Museum in Camden Yards in a fundraising event that includes a silent auction. And each year, a Brigance Brigade team runs in the Fiesta 5K , a race that benefits the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. This year, the race is scheduled for May 4 at Power Plant Live! For more information, go to brigancebrigade.org.