A door-to-door fundraising campaign by a group of Upper Arlington students netted close to $14,000 to fight pediatric cancer.

Last fall, roughly 200 boys in grades three through six suited up to play in the Upper Arlington Youth Football League. In addition to teaching them about the game, league leaders continued an off-field program that engaged each of the players in fundraising for Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Rather than merely asking parents to open their checkbooks, league commissioner Rob Miller and coaches instructed players to go into the community to solicit donations. The effort was meant to ensure the boys would learn about helping others as they spread the message of need to neighbors and people they knew.

On Dec. 15, they presented officials at Nationwide Children's Hospital with a check for $13,897.96.

"We've been doing fundraisers for various causes for four or five years now," Miller said. "We're trying to build strong, confident adults who can give back to their communities. We want to create a habit of them of always looking to pay forward or give back in a meaningful way."

The league selected pediatric cancer at Nationwide Children's because Miller and the coaches thought their players could better relate to helping young people like themselves who had fallen sick.

There also was a connection with Dark Side team coach Carl Backes, a doctor in the cardiology and neonatology departments at Nationwide Children's.

"It was a leaguewide fundraiser, which was really neat to be a part of," Backes said. "The hospital was overjoyed to be part of a unique fundraising project that was truly led by these kids."

Miller and Backes noted that players went door-to-door to solicit most of the donations, often throughout neighborhoods around Northam Park following weekend practices.

The 10-week effort brought in scores of contributions ranging from spare change to $20, they said.

"When we presented the money to Nationwide Children's, we have them a box full of ones, fives, tens and 20s and even loose change," Miller said. "We were less interested in the amount of money raised. We were interested in the number of people who they got to make donations."

"It was truly kids hitting the streets, breaking their piggybanks. Collectively, it made a huge difference," Backes said.

One player who raised money was Ashton Orr, a sixth-grader at Jones Middle School. Before going into the community to seek donations, Orr said, players learned about young cancer patients and the struggles they face, as well as the need for money for research.

He said he spread the message of need to neighbors and his grandparents as he sought contributions.

"It went really well," Orr said. "I talked to a lot of people. It felt really good to raise money for people in need and know what it's like to help people out. I enjoyed it very much."

Through the project, he said, he developed a better understanding of helping others and he's interested in pursuing other philanthropic opportunities in the future.

Miller said the project exceeded expectations and he's interested in continuing the partnership to support Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Our kids probably aren't always exposed to these sorts of difficult things in life," he said. "We thought that being able to expose them to people who are having difficulties and learning to help those people was very valuable."