Sigma Nu Charity Bowl Still Changing Lives

Annual UM fraternity event raised $168,000 for paralysis victim, nonprofit organizations

Sigma Nu philanthropy co-chairmen Ford Gordon (left) and Nathan Foxworth meet with 2020 recipient Emmie Brookins in Memphis to film a video for the 2020 Charity Bowl. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Emmie Brookins wasn’t even born when University of Mississippi football player Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins suffered a life-changing injury during the Rebels’ 1989 Homecoming game against Vanderbilt University’s Commodores.

Three decades later, overwhelming charitable response to the tragic incident that left Mullins, who died in 1991, a paraplegic is benefitting Brookins, a quadriplegic after another serious accident.

Since 1990, Sigma Nu fraternity members have suited up to play in the annual Sigma Nu Charity Bowl football game. The fraternity began receiving donations from sponsors in October, and at the beginning of the spring semester, Sigma Nu raised $15,000 within one week.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 30th event, the campaign still raised more than $168,000.

“Emmie will be given roughly $80,000 to go toward her purchasing a car that she will learn how to drive,” said Nathan Foxworth, of Columbia, the fraternity’s chapter president and philanthropy co-chair and a junior biochemistry major.

“A couple of years ago, she had the chance to drive a friend’s car. Since then, she has dreamed of having one of her own. This will award her more freedom in her daily life, and we are excited for her to get that opportunity.”

David and Kent Magee (left) meet with Kingsley Smith, vice president of Sigma Nu fraternity, and Nathan Foxworth and Ford Gordon, the fraternity’s philanthropy co-chairmen, at the unveiling of the William Magee Center for Wellness Education at the UM South Campus Recreation Center. Submitted photo

Additional Charity Bowl funds will be given to the Magee Center for Wellness Education, which opened last fall in the university’s South Campus Recreation Center, to continue and expand services for Ole Miss students. The Manning Family Fund also will receive a share of the money to benefit projects at the UM Medical Center and its Blair E Batson Children’s Hospital.

Brookins, 24, was paralyzed in a car accident eight years ago. After intensive rehab, she is able to feed herself and put on makeup. A talented video producer, Brookins started her own blog and YouTube channel called “Emmielynn,” where she shares her life and thoughts.

“Our goal was to raise enough money to purchase Emmie a handicapped-accessible van that she will be able to take to rehab and, eventually, to classes to continue her education,” said Ford Gordon, of Jackson, philanthropy co-chair. “The brothers of Sigma Nu are wholly moved by the spirit of determination and service Emmie personifies as she overcomes her obstacles, and we are honored to be a part of Emmie’s inspiring journey.”

Members of the chapter had to video chat with Brookins to tell her about the money she would be receiving since they could not meet in person.

“This was a humbling experience, but also very unique, given the circumstances,” said Cole Barnhill, of Union, Kentucky, a senior business administration major and the chapter’s final philanthropy co-chair. “Emmie is a cousin of one of our senior members, Blaine Tierney, and having her as our recipient this year was extra-special because of this relationship.”

A native of Memphis who lives in Lakeland, Tennessee, Brookins was 16 when the car she was riding in struck a tree.

“The only thing I remember is suddenly I felt the inability to move or breathe,” she said.

Brookins suffered injuries to her cervical spine that damaged her spinal cord. After eight hours of emergency surgery, Brookins awoke with very limited mobility.

“I could only bend my right arm and barely move my neck,” she said. “Thankfully, I was able to breathe on my own.”

Sigma Nu Charity Bowl recipient Emmie Brookins (center) meets with the fraternity’s philanthropy co-chairmen (from left) Ford Gordon, Nathan Foxworth and Cole Barnhill in a Zoom meeting. Submitted photo

Brookins spent a week in the Regional Medical Center’s ICU in Memphis before being transferred to the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta facility that specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation. After four months, she became stronger and gained the ability to bend both arms and have slight movement in her wrists.

Today, Brookins is able to do many things. Her hobbies include photography, videography, editing, graphic design, blogging and reading. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, being outdoors, traveling and physical therapy.

“I feel my purpose is to share positivity to help others,” she said. “I believe life isn’t about what I can or cannot do; it’s about what I have to offer. My favorite quote is by Stephen Hawking, who said, ‘Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.'”

Sigma Nu Charity Bowl was founded to honor Mullins, who was paralyzed the previous season while making a tackle. Ole Miss supporters, college football fans across the South and people nationwide donated money towards Mullins’ medical expenses.

Donations to a trust fund for him eventually exceeded $1 million. Mullins returned to the university in June 1990 to complete his undergraduate studies, but he died less than a year later after suffering a pulmonary embolism.

The Charity Bowl raises money through program advertisement sales and financial donations. In the years since its inception, Charity Bowl has grown to be the largest single-chapter Greek philanthropy event in the nation, raising more than $2 million for its recipients.

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