When I took over as the head coach at Randolph-Macon College five years ago I had seen the impact that programs like Friends of Jaclyn and Team IMPACT could have on the life of a child when connecting them to a college sports team. I knew how special this opportunity could be for our team to help a child in need, so I put our name in to be considered for either a Friends of Jaclyn or Team IMPACT teammate and waited. And waited. And waited a little more.
After two years of waiting I got a call from a former player of mine who was now working for Team IMPACT. To borrow from their website, “Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.” They thought they had a good match for our team. I was ecstatic! What a great experience for our players! This is going to teach them so much! What an influence they can have on this little girl!
Everything fell into place and in October 2015 we met 6-year old Allie Jones. The team fell in love instantly, and we officially drafted Allie before the first game of the 2016 season. Allie is an incredibly charismatic kid who happens to have a ton of medical issues that make life a little tougher for her. Allie has cerebral palsy and mitochondrial disease, is missing her entire cerebellum, has a central line that administers medication and her TPN (total parental nutrition), and had brain surgery this fall, but despite all of her setbacks, Allie has the best attitude about life. She is always giving hugs and her favorite part of game day is the high fives!
I’ve heard our players describe Allie as an inspiration and Allie’s mom has articulated to us many times how life changing this experience has been for Allie. I had hoped that all of these things would be true; that it would be a good experience for our players and that we would be able to enhance this little girl’s life. What I didn’t stop to think about is how much it would affect me personally.
In 2016, our team had made it to the ODAC Finals for the second year in a row. We had an incredibly talented team who had worked so hard, alongside Allie, all year to get where we were. Allie, her mom, and her two siblings made the trip to Lexington, VA with us for the whole Championship weekend. They even stayed in the team hotel so Allie could keep an eye on the girls.
Sunday, at game time Allie was ready to go in her normal spot on the bench, holding the hand of one of our injured players, screaming and yelling for her team. While our team played their hearts out, the outcome was not what we had hoped for. We went through the line for high fives, Allie smiling the whole way through, and had our tearful hugs with the seniors. As my assistant and I sat on the bench to collect our thoughts before heading to the bus a figure approached me. Allie had come to tell me something. As she gave me a hug she said, “I love you and I’m proud of my team.”
Allie had said so simply, in her way, exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. It wasn’t about the score or loss we had just suffered. It was about our team, a team that Allie makes better every day she is a part of it.
Allie is a warrior in the truest sense of the word, and I could not be more grateful to Team IMPACT for bringing her into my life. Everyone always says that you shouldn’t have a favorite player on your team, but I have no shame in admitting that Allie is most certainly my favorite!