Eloise, Shawn and Jerry (left to right) all prepare to officially sign on with their matched team.
Reminder Publishing photo by Laura Mason

SPRINGFIELD — American International College hosted a signing ceremony on April 26 in recognition of three recent Team IMPACT child-sports team matches at the college.

While each child had been working with their matched team since the late summer or early fall of 2023, the signing ceremony officially began their two-year involvement in the Team IMPACT matching program, Team IMPACT Case Manager Troy French told Reminder Publishing.

Springfield resident Jerry, 8, celebrated his August 2023 match with the men’s baseball team at the ceremony. Jerry has Down syndrome and a respiratory disorder. Shawn, 9, was also recognized at the ceremony for his match with the men’s basketball team, which began in September 2023. Shawn is a Feeding Hills resident and has a gastrointestinal condition. Additionally, Longmeadow resident Eloise, 12, celebrated her match with the women’s field hockey team, which began nearly a year ago. Eloise has autism, a GI condition and other diagnoses, according to Team IMPACT.

With the official signing ceremony, Jerry, Shawn and Eloise joined the 16 other children who previously matched with teams at American International College.

Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that works to connect child with disabilities or serious illnesses to college sports teams in order to encourage goal-setting, socialization and health promotion, French explained. The organization originated in Boston and offers its two-year program at no cost to the child’s family. One-time participation is available to eligible children aged 5-16, he said.

After a family applies for the program, the process begins with an intake coordinator, who accesses whether the child is eligible to participate, French stated. Once this is determined, the child is matched with a sports team that has applied to join the program. A case manager is then assigned to the match and helps to guide and support the parties throughout the two years. French is the case manager for all three child-team matches that were celebrated at the April 26 ceremony, he said.

During the two-year program, teams are encouraged to meet up with the matched child two to four times per month, French said. While this often includes activities like attending practices or matches, French explained that teams are encouraged to remain actively involved with their matched child. As an example, he highlighted how the AIC men’s baseball team recently hosted a birthday party for Jerry.

Although the match connection is only guided by Team IMPACT for two years, children will often maintain contact with teams beyond the program’s end, French stated.

One such example is Xavier Pereira, who has kept an active connection with the AIC men’s hockey team for 7 years, AIC Coordinator of Athletic Communications Seth Dussault said.

During the April 26 ceremony, members of each matched team highlighted their excitement and appreciation to have their matched child officially become part of the team. The student athletes emphasized how their child’s support inspires them and pushes them to play harder.

“There’s no better feeling for any of us when we see Jerry show up at a practice or one of our games,” baseball player Vaughn O’Leary said during the ceremony. “He always knows how to bring a smile to each one of our faces.”

Once the child becomes part of the sports team, they “become friends for life,” Team IMPACT Fellow and AIC graduate assistant Taylor Wildes said. In addition to the organizer for the April 26 signing event, Wildes is also a member of the AIC women’s field hockey team matched to Eloise, she said.

While traditionally each child would sign on with their matched team during an individual ceremony based on when they began in the program, Wildes explained that she coordinated the signing events to host all three together because it allowed the children and teams to all support each other.

Wildes highlighted her passion for helping the children connect with their teams, stating that she joined Team IMPACT to “be part of something bigger than [herself]” and emphasized that the program was “so special.” She explained that she first learned about the program in her freshman year and later decided to become a fellow.

Following the official signing, Jerry, Shawn and Eloise as well as their teammates were all invited to play a game of knockout basketball. The event also included a raffle, photobooth area, a basketball dunk competition and opportunities to play other games, such as roundnet. Furthermore, the AIC athletes signed posters for their matched child to commemorate the day.

AIC and Team IMPACT will also host a graduation ceremony for Jerry, Shawn and Eloise after their two years to celebrate their time with the program, Wildes said.

For more information about the AIC Team IMPACT signing day or to watch a recording of the event, visit ne10now.tv/aicyellowjackets/?B=1068572.

lmason@thereminder.com | + posts