Jacob Beranger, a seven-year-old Woburn resident in remission from neuroblastoma cancer, was drafted into the Tufts men’s lacrosse team last Friday.
The draft was organized by Team IMPACT, an organization founded by Tufts alumni that aims to connect children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses to college athletic teams.
According to Team IMPACT, the mission of the organization is to use team-based support networks to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
“Our mission is to give kids the opportunity to really experience [teamwork],” member of Team IMPACT’s Board of Directors Kris Herman (LA ’86) said.
Jay Calnan (E ’87), Board of Directors member, agreed that a key component of Team IMPACT’s goal is the lessons demonstrated by athletic teams.
“Team sports are a great environment to really promote the concept of team, togetherness and strength in numbers,” Calnan said. “We wanted to promote that concept to those who traditionally don’t have an opportunity to participate in that experience and foster those types of relationships.”
Beranger arrived at the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center on Friday in a limo, according to an announcement by the Department of Athletics. Tufts lacrosse players led Beranger to the locker room where he was presented with a team jersey and an official locker adorned with his nameplate.
Beranger was diagnosed with the nerve tissue-targeting cancer at age three, according to the announcement. After receiving an extremely high dose of chemotherapy meant to wipe out his immune system, Beranger’s organs began shutting down and he was forced to enter a two-month medically-induced coma.
While the treatment left Beranger without a functioning immune system, he is in remission and was able to begin school this year. At the event on Friday, Beranger was announced as the first lacrosse recruit of the class of 2025.
According to Calnan, this draft day event marks the beginning of the child and team’s relationship.
“We like to have a formal drafting between the child, the student athletes, the coaches and the athletic department,” Calnan said. “We have always tried to make the draft day a big deal.”
Herman explained that, after the drafting, the children not only go to practices and games with the team but also participate in additional activities such as trick-or-treating, bowling and eating lunch together at the child’s school.
“The most important thing is to make sure that every relationship is strong,” she said.
Member of Team IMPACT’s Board of Directors Dan Walsh (LA ’87) stated that the men’s lacrosse team is now one of six teams at Tufts that has partnered with a child through the organization. The Tufts’ football, men’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s basketball and women’s soccer teams also participate.
According to Walsh, the concept of matching teams with kids is an old one. The impact on both the older mentors and the young children can be very powerful.
“Improving the quality of life for the children and their [families] is one part of the equation,” Walsh said. “The other part of the equation is that, at a very impressionable age, college athletes get some insight into the disease community, the medical community … As young athletes there are a lot of ways they can help in the community and there are a lot of people that could really use it.”
Herman agreed that the benefits of the relationships are mutual.
“As important as it is to the children, the athletes are also getting so much out of the relationship – not just in terms of perspective, but in being able to be really appreciative of the opportunities the have,” she said. “Everybody benefits from these relationships.”
According to Herman, Team IMPACT was founded by four Tufts graduates, three of whom attended Tufts as undergraduates and one who recently earned his doctorate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
“It was coincidental that all four of us had Tufts degrees,” Herman said.
Once the organization was established, many other Tufts alumni joined as well, Herman said.
Since the establishment of Team IMPACT’s in 2011, the organization has expanded participation to 90 percent of all college campuses in New England, Walsh said. Teams in 37 states recruit children through the organization.
In the future, Walsh hopes that Team IMPACT will continue to extend its geographical influence, as well as increase the scope of the children it serves.
“We will expand the definition of the children that we serve over time, and we will actually expand the nature of the teams,” he said.
To Walsh, this change means including children suffering from adversities other than life-threatening or chronic illnesses – such as blindness or autism – and partnering them with teams beyond college athletics. For example, Walsh suggested matching children interested in music with local symphonies.
As a Tufts alumnus, Calnan hopes that Team IMPACT sends a positive message to current Tufts students.
“One of the things that we as graduates would like to convey back to the student body at Tufts is to recognize the fact that no one gets anywhere on their own,” Calnan said.
Calnan believes that the benefits of working together with others, particularly in a team setting, is an important learning experience for everyone.
“The concept [of Team IMPACT] drives home the ability to not only help sick children, but really celebrate the value of team, strength in numbers and that together communities and groups can accomplish more than individuals,” he said.