by Hayley Masters
The clock ticked down and the final buzzer sounded. The Tufts University Men’s Lacrosse team, the Jumbos, had once again defeated the Salisbury University Sea Gulls to win the NCAA Division III championship. The team ran the traditional victory lap, led by 3-foot-10-inch 7-year-old Jacob Beranger, joyous at having been named MVT–most valuable teammate.
“On our victory lap, one of the guys had him on his shoulder carrying him around,” said midfielder Charlie Rubin. “I remember looking up and seeing this huge smile on his face. It was definitely an image I’ll never forget.”
As the media, the fans, and families swarmed the field, the players gathered around the trophy for the victory photo. Jacob sat front and center, decked out head to toe in Jumbos apparel and with his championship hat on backwards, just like his teammates. His smile lit up the stadium.
For one afternoon, Jacob got the chance to be a regular 7-year-old kid. His high-risk neuroblastoma was forgotten as he shared the glory of being the best Division III team in the country.
“He just gives me a constant reminder of how lucky I am,” Rubin said. “I just think about the big picture, and knowing what he’s been through keeps me humbled and grounded.”
Charlie Rubin and Jacob Beranger/Photo by Dan Leventhal
Jacob is one of 575 children who have been matched with an NCAA team through the work of Team Impact. Each child is welcomed to the team on Draft Day, a day designated to formally introduce the children and families to the team and coaching staff. Impact works to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of teamwork.
“Our motto is: ‘Matches make a Difference’,” said Maura Mahoney, director of programs at Team Impact.
Mahoney is proud of the longevity of the relationships. “They don’t just end after a season, they last a lifetime,” she said.
Team Impact, based in Quincy, Massachusetts, began in 2011. Since then, the organization has matched 575 children, partnered with 270 Colleges and Universities, and expanded into 42 states.
“Our goal is to reach every institute, every team in the NCAA,” said Mahoney.
Steve Rushin, journalist, sportswriter, and novelist, recently wrote a story in Sports Illustrated magazine about Team Impact matching six-year-old Dante Chiappetta with Yale University’s football team.
“Team Impact is such fantastic program. I know Dante’s family loved their experience, it brought so much joy to their lives,” said Rushin.
Rushin has written countless stories over the years, but this was “a family and a story I’ll never forget.”
The Assumption College varsity football team in Worcester, Massachusetts, was matched with 7-year-old Yan Perez, a rambunctious football enthusiast. Yan had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, but according to the brawny defensive back, Erik Abramson, his positive energy is always present.
Erik Abramson with Yan Perez/Photo by Michael Abramson
“He goes through stuff that we can’t even comprehend, but somehow he finds a reason to smile,” said Abramson.
Abramson noted that Yan isn’t just a big deal on the field, but is well known around the entire school. “He’s a celebrity around campus,” Abramson said laughing. “We call him the king of the campus.”
Head Coach Bob Chesney has noticed a shift of attitude and disposition in his players since Perez was drafted by the Greyhounds in 2011.
“it’s sounds crazy,’ he said, “but I think he’s had a bigger impact on us than we’ve had on him.”
Families are also affected. “It has changed my life,” said Yansen Perez, Yan’s mother. “Yan has become part of their family. And those boys have become part of mine.”
Hayley Masters hails from Horseshoe Valley, Ontario, Canada, and studies Journalism with minors in Global Social Entrepreneurship and Photography, at Northeastern University, in Boston, Massachusetts. She also plays on the women’s ice hockey team. Her passions include traveling, photography, writing, and the outdoors.