Team IMPACT (Inspire, Motivate, and Play Against Challenges Together), a nonprofit organization that invites students with life-threatening illnesses to play with college athletics teams, received the 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Tufts Athletic Department at their awards night on Sept. 26.
Team IMPACT was co-founded by Tufts alumni Jay Calnan (E ’87), Kris Herman (LA ’86, G ’90), Dan Kraft (LA ’87), Robert Tishman (LA ’86) and Dan Walsh (LA ’87), according to Director of Athletics William Gehling. He said that the Distinguished Achievement Award honors a Tufts-connected individual or organization that has made a difference in sports.
“We chose Team IMPACT because five of the seven founding board members are Tufts alumni,” he said. “The vast majority of people that brought it to life and help it function today are Tufts alumni.”
Seven athletics teams at Tufts currently participate in Team IMPACT: women’s soccer, men’s soccer, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, football and sailing.
“They come to practices, games, and often the teams will do other kinds of activities with them,” Gehling said. “It has a huge beneficial effect on the kid, the kid’s family and on the team and the coach, as well.”
Gehling explained that spending time with Team IMPACT participants provides Tufts athletes with a new perspective.
“It is helpful to see others who are struggling with things that are really significant to just give a little balance to your own view, about how important what is going on in your own life is,” he said. “It is hard to get upset about going zero for four if you are a baseball player [when] you have a little kid that is fighting for their life.”
Through the program, men’s lacrosse player Michael Mattson, a sophomore, developed a friendship with Team IMPACT participant Jacob Beranger, an eight-year-old cancer survivor from Woburn, Mass.
“He is just another guy and another player,” Mattson said. “We treat him as such, and it is a blast to have him. It was really awesome to see him open up throughout the season — and the progression. It was the same way any teammate develops with their teammates — group cohesion. He was part of that.”
The men’s lacrosse team has spent time with Beranger both on and off the field, Mattson noted.
“We are doing pizza with Jacob, video games, homework in the film room with Jacob, wiffle ball on Tuesdays with Jacob in the cage and Chuck E. Cheese’s,” he said. “His involvement transcends the lacrosse side of things.”
Women’s basketball player Emma Roberson, a junior, said she believes Team IMPACT participant Shannon Curley has dramatically changed the team atmosphere. Curley, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, is an eighth grade student from Billerica, Mass.
“Her optimism and positivity is admirable, and she always has us laughing with her witty humor,” Roberson told the Daily in an email. “Last March, our team went to Wisconsin for the Final Four, and we were lucky enough to have Shannon travel with us. She was the loudest person on our bench, cheering and clapping for everyone. She even yelled at the [referees] when she didn’t agree with them. It was awesome she was so enthusiastic and passionate. She fits right in as a member of the team.”
Roberson said Curley’s presence has had a positive impact on the team.
“Because of Shannon and her story, we’ve learned to put things in perspective,” she said. “I think my team would agree that daily stressors become a lot more manageable and you feel like you can tackle anything knowing what Shannon has overcome.”
Team IMPACT will continue to grow in the future, Gehling said.
“Team IMPACT has expanded a lot in three years, but their goal is to expand it dramatically,” he said. “They want it to be present in all 50 states. Right now they are at the stage where they are looking to get corporate funding so that they can scale it up to a truly national organization. There are kids like this in every single state and every single city, near every single college.”
The organization could also include college extracurriculars other than sports, according to Gehling.
“Not everyone is interested in sports,” he said. “It could be that a kid is really interested in music. So maybe they could partner them with a college a cappella group or college band.”
Gehling added that he thinks it has been helpful for Tufts athletes to see Tufts alumni run a program that has had an impact on the community.
“I think it was nice for them to see that Tufts alumni didn’t just go off and make tons of money,” he said. “They made money and they tried to make the lives of other people better.”