We are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at University of Mississippi Medical Center. Tiny, tiny babies are everywhere you look. This day, there are 80 of them, from all over the state, and most are crying.
That's a good thing, a doctor tells me. Crying is good. You worry, she says, when they don't cry. Many of these infants were born prematurely. Some are terribly ill. Some have heart defects. Some have neurological problems. Many are fighting for their lives.
Most importantly, lives are being saved.
There's plenty more noise from monitors, ventilators, IV pumps, you name it. It makes for quite the cacophony. Nurses don't seem to notice. The babies are keeping them busy.
A young mother closes a curtain to her baby's cubicle so she can breastfeed in as much privacy as possible. It's obvious, even to an untrained visitor, this unit could use more space.
By now, you are wondering what exactly is this doing on the sports page, and we are about to get to that. Earlier in the day, elsewhere on the UMMC campus, a press conference was held during which Joe Sanderson, CEO of Sanderson Farms, handed a check for more than $1.1 million from the PGA Tour's Sanderson Farms Championship and Century Club Charities to the hospital. That's what the tournament raised for UMMC this year, slightly more than last year, which was twice as much as the year before.
Pretty soon, the saying goes, we will be talking about some real money. We already are. And the really good news is that Sanderson Farms has committed to sponsor the tournament for another decade.
"We believe that it is important, particularly for the charities and for the children's hospital, to know that we're going to be here for that period of time," Joe Sanderson said. "The people of the Jackson metro area and the state of Mississippi need to know that they can depend on us."
The neonatal ICU unit at UMMC is the state's only level four (the highest possible) unit of its kind in Mississippi. Sick babies are brought here from all over the state and beyond.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, called the donation "an incredible gift to the children of Mississippi."
Approximately 900 newborns a year are treated annually in the cramped NICU, which badly needs expanding.
That's the plan, says Guy Giesecke, CEO of the children's hospital. And the Sanderson Farms money will go toward that expansion plan.
UMMC last year announced a plan to built a four-story tower that will adjoin the current children's hospital, providing badly needed room for NICU and other areas of the hospital.
Parents will be able to stay with their babies, especially important because so many of the infants are from outside the Jackson area. Mothers can breastfeed in private. Parents can share in the care of their babies, learning what they will need to know how to do when they leave the hospital. Doctors and nurses will have more room to work.
Said Giesecke, "We anticipate the average stay in the NICU will drop, which will open more beds and save money for the families and for the state."
So what does this have to do with sports? The Sanderson Farms Championship over the next few years will provide millions toward the expansion. The football-famous Manning family has helped raise millions already for the hospital and will continue to do so.
We all owe them. We all can help. It is hard to imagine a more worthy cause. Lives are saved in the hustle and bustle of NICU every day.
You never know, one of these preemies might be the next Dak Prescott, Eli Manning, or Brett Favre -- or, a PGA champion.
Donations, may be sent to Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39216.
Rick Cleveland, is the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum's historian and a syndicated columnist. His email address is email@example.com.