Changing lives, one pitch at a time

The Make-A-Wish Foundation changed the lives of south Charlotte’s Landon Payne and his family after Landon was diagnosed with cancer at 4 years old.

In an effort to give back to the organization they say has given their family so much, the Paynes will join hundreds of Charlotte-area community members for the sixth annual Make-A-Wish Cornhole Tourney.

The event takes place on Sept. 28, a Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dilworth Little League ball fields at Freedom Park, 1900 East Blvd. in Charlotte. The event costs $60 per two-player team – each player will receive an event T-shirt – and features live music, a bounce house, activities for kids, raffle items, food and drinks and more.

Last year’s event broke the Guinness World Record – with 144 teams playing cornhole at one tournament – according to a news release, and the event raised more than $330,000 in its first five years. Event organizers hope to raise $200,000 this year, the release said.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s mission is to “grant the wishes of children experiencing life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy,” according to a news release from the foundation. And 6-year-old Landon Payne is one of the children whose journey has been a little easier, his family says – thanks to the foundation.

During a typical sick visit to his pediatrician on Nov. 11, 2011, Landon’s family received earth-shattering news: Landon likely had leukemia. Landon was immediately sent to Levine Children’s Hospital for testing and was subsequently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“You think this is not something that happens to you in your life,” Kelly Payne, Landon’s mom, said. “Illnesses are happening to others, but it’s not something (you think could) happen to you.”

Landon immediately began three years of chemotherapy treatments. In spite of their shock and concern, Landon’s family received reassuring news from his doctors that the cancer was very treatable, and the cure rate in patients was 92 to 95 percent.

“We were like, ‘Is he going to be OK?’” Payne said. “But the doctors told us, ‘If there’s a cancer your child has to have, this is it.’”

Since beginning chemo, Landon has done very well, his mom said. Because his treatments had been going smoothly and his chance of survival was high, Payne was a bit shocked and frightened when it was suggested she reach out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“It really kind of scared me. I thought it was just for terminal cases,” she said.

But she learned any child facing a life-altering illness is eligible to have a wish granted. Although she was initially hesitant to reach out to the foundation, fearing her family might take the place of another child who “needs something more than us,” Payne was urged to “do this for Landon” and not deprive him of the opportunity he deserved.

According to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, granting wishes does more for children than put a smile on their face; it helps with physical healing, as well. The foundation states 74 percent of wish parents observed the wish experience marked a turning point in their child’s response to treatment, and 79 percent of adult former wish kids confirm their wish experience marked a turning point in their recovery.

“A wish come true isn’t just nice. For most children and their families, it’s a vital antidote against the illness they are battling,” the foundation said in a news release.

Landon’s wish was to drive a cruise ship, and the family departed for a seven-night Royal Caribbean Cruise last month, stopping in places like Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts, Aruba and Curacao. Landon got to go snorkeling, descend to the bottom of the ocean in a submarine and visit the ship’s captain to help steer.

The Paynes also were a part of a fundraiser on the ship in which they sold T-shirts stamped with Landon’s handprint for $10. The endeavor raised more than $4,400 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation – the most ever raised on the ship’s sailing, Payne said, according to the captain.

“There were some really amazing people,” Payne said. “People wanted to see (Landon) and be able to pray for him. It was just an amazing experience.”

Payne said the family plans to continue giving back to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, starting with this month’s cornhole tournament – where Landon will get to speak about his Make-A-Wish experience.

“He’s ready to get up there and tell his story,” Payne said.

Find more information about the tournament and register to play at

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