That word is a core part of the Sacramento Republic FC’s identity, inspired by the city’s founding during the Gold Rush era nearly two centuries ago. It describes the club’s fans who are passionate, resilient, and community-driven.
It also describes Matthew Harding, a 15-year-old cancer patient who Republic FC signed to a one-game contract last month.
Fulfilling Matthew’s wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the club welcomed Matthew into its family. Initially asked to do something along the lines of hosting him at a practice, Republic FC wanted to do more than that. With this being the first sports-related wish at this level in the Sacramento area, Ben Gumpert, the president and COO of Republic FC, explained that the club’s thought process was simple: “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”
The outcome of Matthew’s wish didn’t just involve him meeting a player, it involved him becoming a player. Over the course of Matthew’s week with Republic FC, he was signed to a contract during a surprise conference at UC Davis Children’s hospital, trained with the team, and was in the roster during its game against the Las Vegas Lights, where he scored in the first minute.
The club did so much to make Matthew’s experience special that it left one of the players joking about how when he was signed, he didn’t get a press conference. Jokes aside, the experience was incredibly meaningful, not just to Matthew but to the players and the front office, many of whom admitted to being humbled by the experience.
The fans rallied behind Matthew as well, an event which made the club’s executive vice president and co-founder Joe Wagoner proud of the community he and Republic FC had built.
Both Wagoner and Gumpert believe that Republic FC, and sports teams in general, have a responsibility to give back to their communities.
“We have a platform and that platform can be used in a lot of different ways. We strongly feel that at the Republic, we need to use that in a way that shines a light on issues in our community to raise awareness,” he said.
Wagoner agreed by saying, “it’s sports’ obligation to support and give back to their communities.”
This certainly didn’t feel like an obligation, though. Wagoner has worked in the industry for over 20 years, but admitted that this weekend was nothing like he’d seen before.
“We actually signed the player, he came to training, he actually got in the game, and I’ve never seen a group of fans rally around an effort like I saw them rally around Matthew and his Make-A-Wish goal,” he said.
While this was the organization’s first time working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it was not their first time working with UC Davis Health, a long-standing partner of the club, or the greater Sacramento community.
The team regularly sends players to visit kids in the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and local schools, and has partnered with organizations like World Relief to host soccer camps for refugees and Susan G. Komen to raise awareness for breast cancer.
While they have no other wishes in the works at the moment, Republic FC’s indomitable spirit will continue to persist in the community — and the memory of the week with Matthew won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
“We got to fulfill a kid’s dream,” said Wagoner.