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‘In Rudd we trust’: Big Slick celebrities launch voting campaign for Children’s Mercy

Actor and comedian Rob Riggle talks about The Big Slick

Rob Riggle discusses new events for this year's Big Slick fund raiser for Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics on Thursday, April 16, at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest Forum at The Kansas City Star's press pavilion in Kansas City.
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Rob Riggle discusses new events for this year's Big Slick fund raiser for Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics on Thursday, April 16, at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest Forum at The Kansas City Star's press pavilion in Kansas City.

On Friday, Kansas City awoke to a curious and colorful sight: 2,000 red, white and blue signs planted in yards across the metro.

The signs — which sprang up overnight thanks to dozens of volunteers — don’t advocate for Trump, Clinton, Cruz or Sanders.

Instead, they root for homegrown Hollywood stars Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Rob Riggle with slogans such as “In Rudd we trust,” “Pledge allegiance to Sudeikis” and “Liberty and Riggle for all.”

Don’t get your hopes up: The beloved celebrities are not running for president. But they are campaigning to raise money for Children’s Mercy Hospital. Their annual fundraiser, Big Slick Celebrity Weekend, isn’t until June 17 and 18, but the fun starts early with a mock election.

Here’s how it works: Big Slick hosts Rudd, Riggle, Sudeikis, David Koechner and Eric Stonestreet will compete for votes, which cost $1 each at bigslickkc.org. The minimum donation is $10; proceeds benefit at Children’s Mercy Cancer Center.

The competition could get heated — this is politics, remember? — but “the only official winner is the kids,” says Big Slick marketing committee member Beth Hoops. “Otherwise it’s just all bragging rights because the candidates’ shared platform is what really matters.”

Those who spend more money on votes can win prizes. For example, donors who pledge $50 get a bumper sticker that reads “The Department of Homeland Absurdity.” A $500 gift comes with a prize package that includes the bumper sticker, a Big Slick T-shirt, buttons, a yard sign and a poster signed by one of the hosts.

Big Slick Celebrity Weekend started in 2010 when Riggle came up with the idea to do a charity poker tournament and recruited fellow Shawnee Mission grads Rudd and Sudeikis to join in. That first event raised $120,000 for Children’s Mercy and was organized by a small group of volunteers that included the actors’ family members.

[Meet the hardworking relatives behind Big Slick Celebrity Weekend]

The event has grown every year since, but it’s still organized by a small group of volunteers. Big Slick has raised about $3.25 million in six years, including more than $1 million each in 2014 and 2015. It’s also boosted the national profile of the cancer center at Children’s Mercy, which provides care to 2,000 children with cancer, sickle cell disease, hemophilia and other blood disorders every year.

“We’re at the seven-year mark, and our reach is further than it’s ever been, both within the city and nationally,” says Big Slick board member Joan Charbonneau, who is David Koechner’s sister.

This year’s Big Slick Celebrity Weekend kicks off with a celebrity softball tournament at Kauffman Stadium on June 17. On June 18, the celebrities will participate in a bowling tournament at Pinstripes in Overland Park and a “victory party” and auction at Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. For info on sponsorship packages and tickets, go to bigslickkc.org.

Kansas City Royals Eric Hosmer talks All Star voting, fans, Red Sox and Big Slick softball game. Video by John Sleezer/ The Kansas City Star

This year’s campaign theme — and all the accompanying signs, buttons and stickers — is the work of Kansas City branding firm Blacktop Creative. The lighthearted slogans encourage everyone to come together: “United we laugh,” “I stand with Big Slick” and “Hope. Change. Comedy.”

[High school photos: Our Big Slick celebrities, before they were famous]

Charbonneau says that the hosts are aware of the campaign. But she’s not sure if they’ll be hitting the trail to shake hands and kiss babies.

“It depends on how national it becomes,” Charbonneau says. “But the guys know about it and are on board with it.”

In previous years, Big Slick has attracted a variety of screen stars to Kansas City, including Will Ferrell, Olivia Wilde (Sudeikis’ fianceé), Jon Hamm, Johnny Knoxville and Selena Gomez. While they’re in town, the celebrities participate in fundraising events and visit kids at Children’s Mercy.

“It’s hard for me to put into words what Big Slick does for Children’s Mercy and its patients,” says Jenea Oliver, the hospital’s vice president of philanthropy.

Oliver says Big Slick Celebrity Weekend feels like a holiday at the hospital, and that kids look forward to it for months.

“The hosts in particular, the minute they come to the hospital, you can tell their heart is with these patients,” Oliver says. “They’re trying to bring joy and laughter into their lives at a time of crisis and pain.”

The money raised by Big Slick Celebrity Weekend has helped the cancer center add beds and install entertainment centers with TVs and video games in every room. It has also helped accelerate research into genomics, immunotherapy and tumor banking.

Charbonneau says the Big Slick team is aiming to raise at least $1 million again this year. The campaign should help — especially if fans turn out the vote for Rudd, Sudeikis, Riggle, Koechner and Stonestreet.

“This city is so unbelievably generous,” Charbonneau says.

According to Oliver, the real winner in Big Slick’s latest fundraising campaign is Kansas City.

“We feel so blessed that the hosts have chosen Children’s Mercy as their charity of choice,” she says. “They could have chosen any charity in the world, but they elected to come back to their hometown, Kansas City.”

Big Slick Celebrity Weekend

This year’s Big Slick Celebrity Weekend is June 17-18. The fundraiser for the Children’s Mercy Cancer Center kicks off at 5 p.m. June 17 with Star Spangled Softball, a celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium.

The lineup of celebrities will be announced closer to the event but will definitely include Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, David Koechner and Eric Stonestreet. At 7:15 p.m., the Royals take on the Detroit Tigers. Baseball fans who have tickets to the Royals game can arrive early to watch Star Spangled Softball. For sponsorship and ticket info, go to bigslickkc.org.

At 10:30 a.m. June 18, the celebrities return for Red, White & Bowl, a bowling tournament at Pinstripes, 13500 Nall Ave. Sponsorships for the bowling tournament are almost sold out; go to bigslickkc.org for more info.

On the evening of June 18, Big Slick Celebrity Weekend comes to a close with a “victory party” and auction at Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland, 1228 Main St. in Kansas City. The VIP part starts at 6:30 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. and the event begins at 8:15 p.m. General admission tickets are $50-75. Auction prizes are to be determined; in the past they’ve included tickets to the hosts’ movie premieres and set visits to TV shows. For more info, go to bigslickkc.org.

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