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Clemson holds pep rally at home of terminally ill baby

Jonathan and Stephanie Bolt dreamed about taking their baby girl to a Clemson football game. But bringing 9-month-old Addison to Memorial Stadium could never happen.

Addison is unable to travel as she fights Krabbe disease, a terminal illness that slowly destroys the white matter of the brain.

So a man in Pennsylvania brought Clemson to them.

John Neal, who runs a Facebook page called Team Krabbe Strong to raise awareness about the disease, heard from the Bolts several months ago after they learned about their daughter's diagnosis. Neal became an advocate for families impacted by Krabbe when a young girl named Hannah was diagnosed in his community. Neal promised her before she died that he would make it his mission to help other families in the same situation. One of the ways he helps is to make bucket list dreams come true for those affected.

He asked the Bolts what they wanted. Once they told him they would not be able to go to a game, he came up with the idea to hold a pep rally in front of their home. He emailed the Clemson spirit squad and got in touch with captain Tori Palmer. Then Clemson band director Mark Spede got involved. Three bus loads of the Bolts' friends showed up, too, and a photographer was there to take some pictures.

The pep rally Sunday in front of their Piedmont, South Carolina, home was a rousing success. WYFF4-TV was there to document the event, with the band playing Tiger Rag, complete with neighbors cheering and holding signs and the Clemson Tiger mascot leading the way.

"You saw it in my eyes," Stephanie told the television station. "I was crying when I heard them coming up over the hill."

Neal tried to get coach Dabo Swinney and team members there, but they were unable to attend. Swinney did send an autographed football for the family.

"It’s just great," Swinney said Tuesday. "I think most schools recognize the opportunity they have to make people smile in ways other than the product on the field. Clemson certainly gets that. They do a wonderful job of trying to help people in our community as much as possible. That’s a great moment.”

In an email Tuesday, Neal said, "It was amazing. Just perfect. The family Facetimed me after the event to thank me. Over and over and over! I got to hear the words I wanted to hear: 'We will never forget this day for the rest of our lives.' Mission accomplished! My reaction was overwhelmed with joy. I never expected it to get this big, but was so happy it did. They got their wish, and I got mine. I will never forget this day either. As a father of two, I couldn't imagine being in their shoes...but I will always walk right beside them!"