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Fundraising Begins For "Ace's Place"

By Brian Rosenthal

At 19 months old, Ace had reached the age where his parents, Mike and Megan Moudy, found joy and fun in taking their jovial son on public outings.

There he played on the left field berm at Bowlin Stadium on April 5, his first Nebraska athletics event. Well, that is, until he smacked on the softball dugout a few too many times, and they moved behind the berm, to a bigger area of grass where he was less disruptive but just as spirited. His mother laughed as she shared the story.

“He just could not have been any more fun,” said Megan Moudy, formerly Megan Southworth, who played softball at Nebraska. “He was dancing every time the music came on. He was mesmerized by the cheerleaders and dancers, blowing them kisses and waving at them.”

Ace ran up to some of Megan’s former teammates, and they held him as he smiled and said “hi.” His favorite word, in fact.

“He never had ‘stranger danger’ and was always like the happiest kid that you could ever meet, always laughing, always smiling,” said Mike Moudy, a former Nebraska offensive lineman. “Every person he met, whether it was a stranger or family or whatever, they all got to see that side of him.”

A bigger boy for his age, Ace – named for the term referring to a softball team’s star pitcher – had only one issue at daycare. He’d get written up for tackling other kids.

“But it was because he was running to hug them, because he was so friendly and had a lot of love to give,” Megan said.

On their way home from that softball game, Megan remembers calling her mother, saying how Ace was so good and had so much fun, and how they all needed to do more events like this together.

“We just couldn’t get over how it was the best night ever,” she said.

Mike agreed.

“You could not have asked for a better day for him,” he said. “It truly was a perfect day.”

The Moudys arrived at their Papillion home, the night of fun compete. Mike and Megan put Ace to sleep.

He never woke up.

Three months later, the University of Nebraska and Haymarket Park have approved an initiative to begin fundraising efforts to build a playground in Ace’s memory. Former Husker athletes are solely responsible for spearheading the initiative, including Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, whose company, Crouch Recreation, will be responsible for construction.

“I really think it’s indicative of what type of people Nebraska has,” Megan said. “They take care of one another. I really don’t think you can find that anywhere else.”

Named “Ace’s Place,” the playground will be on that very patch of grass behind the left field berm at Bowlin Stadium, where Ace enjoyed his final day, and will “provide a place where community, happiness, love, joy and all-around fun can be shared with all,” according to the Moudys’ Go Fund Me page, where anyone can contribute.

During the first three days of the fundraising efforts, people had donated more than $6,400. The goal needed to build the playground is $75,000.

The idea began when some of Megan’s co-workers had reached out to the Nebraska Athletics Department, wondering if they could put a small memorial plaque at the softball field, knowing that’s where Ace spent his final day.

It’s turned into something bigger – much bigger than Megan would’ve ever envisioned.

“In that really hard time, it gave us something to really look forward to, to really honor him,” she said, “and also something that we’re going to have, to go to forever, to bring our future kids to, to bring his cousins to, and teach people who didn’t know him or who he was.”

A very healthy Ace was a victim of SUDC – Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood, a very rare category that occurs in one in every 100,000 children. Some 400 children – healthy, thriving – are lost to SUDC every year.

“We had never heard of it,” Megan said. “Everyone hears of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and you kind of think you’re in the clear after you get past the first year. We learned that’s not the case.”

The category remains unexplained even after thorough investigation and autopsy. At this time, there is no known cause for SUDC, or prevention. The Moudys are active in supporting research for SUDC, and some of Megan’s former teammates, both from high school and Nebraska, are planning a softball camp in which proceeds will go entirely toward SUDC research.

With no other known public funding, the SUDC Foundation is the only organization worldwide whose purpose is to promote awareness, advocate for research and support those affected by SUDC.

“The SUDC has been a huge support to us as far as connecting us with people who have been through something similar,” Megan said. “They’ve guided us through the whole autopsy process and connecting us with doctors and really just leading us on this path that we had no idea … we wouldn’t have known how to navigate it without them.”

The Moudys have also appreciated an outpouring of support over these last three months, including some by complete strangers. Just last week, Megan received a letter from someone she didn’t know who was simply offering support and condolences.

“It’s almost too much to put into words just how many people – people we don’t even know who have reached out,” Mike said. “I can think just off the top of my head, we’ve had people message us from Kearney and Norfolk, and we’ve never met them before. But they’ve gone through a similar situation and they’re offering their support.

“It’s an incredible thing to see. It’s hard to find positive in this ugliness, but stuff like this is what truly means a lot.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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