What I Want Lincoln University's Basketball Team to Know About My Son

Our 7-year-old son, Blaze, was born with a significant heart defect. Basically, he has half a heart.

Two weeks ago, Blaze was made an honorary member of the Lincoln University men’s basketball team. The team decided to turn their annual “Welcome Back” celebration, Blue Tiger Fest, into a draft day for Blaze. The coach told everyone he’d received an email from someone who wanted to be on the team, which was pretty common. He didn’t have a video of any great jump shots; he didn’t have great height or strength. But by enduring three open-heart surgeries before the age of 3, Blaze demonstrated the tenacity and courage it takes to be a Blue Tiger.

Then, in a booming announcer’s voice, he introduced our son to the crowd, just like the athletes’ names are announced at the beginning of a game. The team surrounded our son on stage, and he was given his team T-shirt with his number on it: #10.

Throughout our journey with Blaze, we’ve been blessed with support from coworkers, fellow church members and various organizations. But this was the first time I felt like we were part of a community. There was a huge group of people cheering him on, supporting their new friend and helping a second-grader feel accepted. He was welcomed by so many.

Next, the drum line performed on the street. Our son couldn’t see, so one of his teammates helped him out by putting him on his shoulders. Our short, little son became the tallest person around. The gesture made him feel included and welcomed.

Honestly, I was a little nervous about this experience at first. Male college students sometimes have a reputation, and I wasn’t sure I wanted my impressionable son spending so much time around them. I was so wrong. The students and coaching staff have been nothing but kind and respectful to all of us. They even let our 2-year-old throw basketballs and they rebounded them for him. Blaze has his own spot in the locker room, and his teammates enjoy teaching him tricks, like how to spin a basketball on a pencil. He’s learning what it’s like to be supported by teammates and what it means to be part of a team.

While he currently participates in Upward Basketball, a youth church basketball league, it’s unlikely Blaze will be able to play basketball when he’s older due to how hard his heart has to work when he runs. Weightlifting will be discouraged because of the strain it would put on his heart.

This may be his only opportunity to see what it’s like to be part of a team. And what an incredible opportunity it is.

Photo courtesy of Lincoln University’s Athletics Department

I realize this child/university team match-up was created to benefit Blaze and his teammates, but I think his dad and I might be the ones reaping the most benefits. We, like all other parents, hope for the best for our sons, but we knew there would be some things Blaze just might not get to experience himself. To see this second-grader laughing and at ease with his over-6-feet-tall friends melts my heart.

I wish they knew how grateful I am they take time to interact with him, and how much it means to me to see him so confident. I wish they knew what a gift it is to be able to turn your impressionable, young son over to a room full of role models and know he is safe and having fun. I wish I could express to each of them how thankful I am that they’re contributing the strength and greatness of diversity to Blaze’s life.

Oh, you tough Lincoln players, you might think you’re just having fun with your honorary teammate, but you mean so much more to him… and to us as his parents.

This was made possible through Team IMPACT, an organization that matches children with illnesses and disabilities with university teams in their area. We are grateful for Lincoln University’s willingness to take on our son as a team member!

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