By: Alyssa Cantisani, UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. – Saturday’s basketball game at Gampel Pavilion was overshadowed by something that is more significant than any sporting event could be – the life-changing bond between UConn Athletics and Team IMPACT.
Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses to local college athletic teams. Team IMPACT children become an official member of the team on Draft Day and from that moment on, bonds are formed and the lives of both the children and the student-athletes begin to change.
UConn has been a participant in the program since 2014 when Camden Soucy became a member of the men’s ice hockey team, and since then, six additional athletic teams have become involved with the organization:
Abbie Brouker - Softball
Ashley Greenier - Women's Ice Hockey
Camden Soucy - Men's Ice Hockey
Genevieve Neiman - Women's Tennis
Grayson Hand - Baseball
Maddox Bruening - Men's Soccer
Pipper Pagett - Men's Golf
On Saturday at the men’s basketball game, a special presentation with highlights of the partnership between UConn and Team IMPACT was shown during halftime. The children and their families were accompanied by team representatives onto the court and were recognized as members of the UConn Athletics family.
“I have been thrilled to death with the UConn student-athletes’ response,” said Mary Welker, Chapter Director of New England, “They’ve been so invested. They jumped right in and have really done a great job.”
When pairing a child up with a team, it’s important that the Team IMPACT staff take into consideration their location and the type of needs the child has along with their age.
“If someone is in a wheelchair, we might not match them with a lacrosse team that you have to go across two fields to get to,” Welker said, “Or if someone has sensory integration issues, basketball with the buzzer, bouncing balls and squeaking sneakers might not be the best idea. We take into consideration what their interests are, but there is a lot that goes into the process.”
What Team IMPACT looks for is teams that have a true interest and are excited about the idea of becoming involved. According to Welker, it’s not about the sport itself, it’s about the power of team and being a part of something bigger than yourself.
The hope is to gain a bigger presence on campus and get more teams involved. Merrimack College currently has the most matches in the country, but UConn is slowly closing in, shedding light on how much the program has grown in popularity.
“I wish you could feel what I feel almost every day,” Welker said, “I get emails from the moms of student-athletes telling me, my kid finally gets it. It’s a perspective you can’t get in a classroom. I think my favorite part of the program is that maybe we’re building a generation that when they go coach little league or their kids’ soccer team, they’ll be willing to have someone that maybe has different needs or different abilities join their team and to me that’s the most exciting part.”
Team IMPACT has not only given these children lifelong friendships and an improvement in the quality of their lives both socially and psychologically, but they have touched the lives of student-athletes at UConn while bringing them together to serve their community.
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