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ATHENS, Ala. — Playing For Preemies in Athens is hosting it’s 12th annual Playing For Preemies football game on Friday, October 8th. The game will feature Ardmore versus East Limestone at Ardmore High School.

Lauren Bates was born at 28 weeks weighing just 2 lbs., 12 oz.

Her parents Rusty and Kristin Bates told News 19, “We spent 52 days there and we just saw there was a need. We realized the bed space was limited at the time, and we just decided to do something.”

It was by Lauren’s bedside that the parents came up with the idea of hosting football games to raise money for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Women and Children’s Center at Huntsville Hospital. The Bates family teamed up with the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund and started the football game.

The non-profit aims to not only brings awareness to premature births but also funds, supports and purchases equipment, supplies, and personal care through the Melissa George Neonatal Fund.

“This is our 12th year to sponsor a game,” Bates said. “Since then its expanded to five gold tournaments and we’ve got a 5k fun run at the end of October.”

Bates stated last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year;s has been rescheduled to October 30, 2021 in Ardmore.

Each year, Playing For Preemies has a new shirt showcasing the opponents of the fundraising game. It’s through those shirt sales and donations over the past decade that the non-profit was able to hit a mile stone this year.

“We will surpass $100,000 in donations to the NICU,” Bates continued.

Shirts, which can be found here, must be purchased on or before September 29. This year there will be two different designs that you can choose from.

Bates said since starting the games it’s expanded to so much more than just a football game and through community efforts, those who have donated no matter how big or small, have been a true blessing for the hospital and families of the Huntsville Women and Children NICU.

“This has become way more than we have ever expected,” Bates concluded. “We were thinking about doing one football game and now we’re in our 12th game, we’re a 5013c now and its just been a wonderful experience.”