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University of Michigan boots charity from 'Big House'

The University of Michigan has abruptly banned a charity run from using the school’s fabled “Big House” football stadium for its finish line.

The annual Big House Big Heart event, which has raised more than $2 million for a variety of causes in six years, has from the beginning used the stadium where the Big 10's Wolverines play.

"We were baffled ... as to why Big House Big Heart can't continue, because it is so very charitable and provides help and inspiration to so many people,” said Andrea Highfield, whose company, Champions for Charity, coordinates the run.

The future of the race in another location is uncertain because it was so closely linked to its heralded finish in the country’s largest stadium.

More than 15,000 runners have participated in the event and raced 10- and 5-kilometer and 1-mile paths throughout downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan's campus.

Champions for Charity is a for-profit limited liability company, though Highfield says all of the money a team raises prior to the race goes directly to a charity of the participant’s choice.

"It's just a little mom-and-pop organization," Highfield told AnnArbor.com.

Champions for Charity rented the stadium each previous year for roughly $7,000. Highfield was astonished when the school more than doubled the old rate, charging just under $16,000 for the next annual run.

On Nov. 30, Highfield was told the school's athletic department had decided the Big House Big Heart race could no longer use the Michigan stadium at all.  

"They told me ... their priorities have changed," Highfield told AnnArbor.com.

Dave Ablauf, the University of Michigan associate athletic director for media relations, said that the decision came after months of evaluating its initiatives with external charities.

"We evaluated this organizationally. The Big House Big Heart run has become a challenge to fit into our stadium," he said. "We are very grateful for the six years we partnered with this group. We definitely hope that they're going to continue to have this run in Ann Arbor," reports AnnArbor.com.

Ablauf says that the university’s athletic department remains committed to assisting in charitable causes.

Earlier this month, "Be a Hero at the Big House," a blood donation event, took place at the stadium, and a Michigan Stadium "polar plunge," the department's first event with the Special Olympics, is scheduled for February, reports AnnArbor.com.

Highfield and her staff were forced to send out the devastating email Tuesday morning which informed supporters and participants that the 2013 race, set for April 14, will be canceled.

“We know the extraordinary race finish has always been dependent on UM Athletics allowing access to the stadium,” she wrote in the email to supporters. “Priorities do change with administration changes.”

The local non-profits who have relied on the yearly donations will be deeply affected by the cancelation.

Rachel Dewees, director of the university's Turner Senior Resource Center, was a team member of five different organizations that raised money for the elderly. Last year her team raised nearly $25,000 for the various charities, reports AnnArbor.com.

"It's a significant amount of money," she said. “[It’s] important to all five of our budgets."

Click here for more from AnnArbor.com 

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