Martin Adams has spent much of his life coaching football. But Thursday will feel different.

Adams, the former head coach of the Chippewa Valley Predators and Altoona Railroaders, is launching a one-day camp at Regis High School in honor of his late son, Ashton. He’s carrying on Ashton’s memory with the Ashton’s Angels Football Camp.

“It’s going to be way different,” Adams said, holding back tears. “Words can’t describe how different it’s going to be. But it’s all about him, all about how much he was loved and the lessons that I’ve learned, that we should all try to give back because of how many people loved him and us during that time.”

The Adams family was first alerted of something awry when 12-month-old Ashton fell and hit his head in October 2020. Martin’s wife, Robin, noticed Ashton seemed lethargic and his arms and legs appeared weak, so she took him to the Marshfield Clinic Health System emergency department in Eau Claire.

A CT scan revealed a mass on the baby’s brain near his spinal cord as well as other lesions, or spots of abnormal tissue, on the brain. About a week later, they had a formal diagnosis: atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. Only about 58 Americans are diagnosed with the condition each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“He was a lot tougher than his dad, I can tell you that,” Adams said. “What he went through was so unfair, and even the doctors said he was so strong, all the time. His level of perseverance was just unbelievable, and he was only a baby.”

One-year-old Ashton passed away in April 2020.

“After Ashton passed away, obviously it was completely devastating,” Adams said. “Me and one of my best friends, his name is John Eslinger and he’s Ashton’s godfather, we talked back and forth about Ashton and how courageous he was. We just wanted to find a way to give back and continue his legacy.”

“You’re trying to find a reason for why this could happen,” said Eslinger, who will also coach at the camp Thursday. “Struggling with that on our phone calls up until 1 or 2 in the morning. You’re not going to come to an answer, but what we could do is we could get active and get a camp going for kids and for Ashton.”

Football came to the forefront of both their minds while brainstorming, considering their shared passion for the sport. Adams and Eslinger coached together at both Altoona and with the Predators.

Their first idea was potentially starting a team in Ashton’s name, but Adams settled on a camp instead.

“Anybody that knows me knows how much I love my family and my kids,” Adams said. “And they know how much I love football. So this will be a full-love investment in giving from everyone that’s involved in this, from the staff that’s working hard behind the scenes, to all the coaches and all the kids that don’t even know they’re giving back by their contributions with their registration fees.”

He’s gathered together a group of experienced coaches, all volunteering in Ashton’s name, and found a meaningful partner to collaborate with. The event will raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Marshfield, an organization that was critical for the Adams family while Ashton was undergoing treatment.

The Adams spent four months living at the Ronald McDonald House after Ashton was admitted to Marshfield Children’s Hospital. Martin and Robin were both still working – Martin at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Eau Claire and Robin at Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council. They alternated to make sure someone was always at Ashton’s side, with Robin staying in Marshfield from Monday through Thursday and Martin from Friday through Sunday.

“Martin and his wife Robin, they’re fighters,” Eslinger said. “They’re just the most wonderful people you could ever meet. There were really no complaints from them at all, they just put their head down and get things done. Ashton was like that too.”

As opposed to making a daily 90-minute trip east, the Adams were across the street from the hospital. Martin estimated it took about seven minutes to get from their room at the Ronald McDonald House to Ashton’s hospital room.

“It became a second home,” Adams said.

Stays at the Ronald McDonald House are completely free, with the organization relying on donors for support. The Marshfield location serves about 400 families a year, adding up to about 5,400 nights, according to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Marshfield director Iilee Pederson.

“We get to meet so many different families in our line of work,” Pederson said. “(The Adams) have left a lasting impression. Their story with Ashton, they really just became part of our Ronald McDonald House family. We were honored that they had chosen us to partner on this event. I think we’re even more blessed that we get to celebrate his life.”

The family has been consistently amazed with the support they’ve received from the community, and that continued with the formation of this camp. Adams shared appreciation for the fellow coaches taking part as well as to Regis football coach Bryant Brenner and the school for allowing them to host it at the home of the Ramblers.

“Eau Claire is a small city with a ton of big hearts,” Adams said. “That’s the best way to describe this area to me.”

The Ashton’s Angels Football Camp is $25 to attend and is open to football players of incoming grades 3 through 12. It is structured in two sessions, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Pre-registration is required and can be done at https://tinyurl.com/37ryu9pj.