Former Florida Punter Johnny Townsend Hosts Tailgate Supporting UF Health

The foundation of former University of Florida football player Johnny Townsend hosted its second annual spring game tailgate Thursday to raise funds for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. The event outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was organized with the goal of raising $100,000 for a facility renovation at the pediatric clinic, Townsend said.

The Johnny Townsend Foundation’s mission is to spread hope to pediatric patients. From hospital visits to toy giveaways, Townsend, 28, said he focuses on putting smiles on the children’s faces.

He began working with the pediatric oncology clinic while he was a student-athlete, his father Clay Townsend said.

“Football gave me a tremendous platform to give back to the university that gave me so much already,” Johnny Townsend said.

Gator Greats Return

The tailgate welcomed 150 former Florida football players including Major Wright, Mike Pouncey and Maurkice Pouncey, Townsend said. Wright said coming back to the university feels like coming home.

“We all need to support each other, so being able to come out here and give back in this form is really cool,” he said.

Additionally, the foundation raised money at the tailgate through ticket sales and a silent auction. The silent auction included a football from former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier’s private collection signed by 20 Heisman Trophy winners.

Johnny Townsend’s brother, former Gator punter and 2023 Super Bowl Champion Tommy Townsend, donated a pair of game-worn cleats as well. The cleats were customized for the foundation and read “kickin’ for a cause” on the outside of the shoe. He said he admires his brother’s efforts to raise money and helps out when he can.

“Even the small role I have in the events he puts on is super meaningful,” Tommy Townsend said.

Where does the money go?

Kristi Gaver, UF Health Shands Hospital director of public functions, is in her second year working with the foundation. The money it has raised so far has gone toward the healing gardens outside of the hospital.

“We host events for patients out there,” she said. “Recently, we did a little storybook reading and a play for the kids, so they get to go out there and enjoy the space.”

Shades were installed in the garden, allowing children undergoing treatment who can’t be in the sun to get fresh air, she said. The space accommodates patients’ extensive medical equipment.

Community Outreach

Johnny Townsend said he aims to build a community consisting of a wide range of people and organizations that supports UF Health.

“We’ve brought together so many different organizations and entities, not only just Gator football, but also Florida Blue Key and Greek life,” he said. “They’re all coming together to support a common cause, and it’s bringing people together in a way we haven’t seen around here before.”

Clay Townsend used one word to describe his feeling toward the work his son is doing for UF Health.

“Pride,” he said. “We’re just proud of the work he’s done and continues to do, and even more now that he’s left the University of Florida. He’s come back to do this, and we hope it will continue for many years.”

Johnny Townsend said returning to Gainesville always feels like home.

About Shailey Klein

Shailey Klein is a second-year journalism major specializing in sports and media at UF.

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