ATKINSON, Neb. — Jack Hoffman celebrated his eighth birthday with a party Thursday.
Nearly 600 friends and fans showed up to celebrate National Pediatric Brain Cancer Awareness Day with the Atkinson native who is the charismatic face of Team Jack as he battles cancer.
“It's overwhelming,” said Brianna Hoffman, Jack's mother. “To have this event and this large turnout in our hometown, the support means a lot.”
The star-studded event kicked off with a message from former Husker running back Rex Burk-head, who told Jack he wished he could have attended the event in person.
“With all the excitement the past couple years, it's been a big thrill for me seeing the support you bring, not only across Nebraska, but across the nation as well,” Burkhead said via phone.
Gov. Dave Heineman said the generosity of the state is on full display. “Jack is an inspiration not just for Nebraska but across the country,” he said.
The governor presented Jack with a special pen to use in class at Atkinson West Holt, and made the 8-year-old an admiral in the mythical Nebraska Navy.
Tom Chvala of Lincoln, who serves on the board of directors for the Team Jack Foundation, said the grassroots organization is committed to raising awareness and funds for pediatric brain cancer research.
“It's incredible to see the type of developments doctors are talking about, and that's only possible through continuing research,” Chvala said.
The foundation received a healthy dose of donations during the celebration, including $25,000 from EMC, a cloud computing company, and Dan Campbell, stepfather of Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell; $5,000 from the Bo Pelini Foundation; and $1,000 from Brianna Hoffman's former high school classmates.
A 10-hour “radio-thon,” sponsored by Lincoln station KLIN and broadcast on more than a dozen radio stations across the state, raised nearly $40,000 for research.
Former Husker quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch said he's inspired by Jack and Team Jack efforts to promote awareness and research.
“It's about research, new technologies and being ahead of the curve,” Crouch said.
Brianna Hoffman said that before the celebration, the foundation had raised close to $600,000 for research. Her husband, Andy, would like to raise at least $1 million, she said.