Many of Trinity's athletic teams have taken advantage of the College's setting in Hartford and given back to the community. The men's lacrosse team, as well as several other teams on campus, have gotten involved in a program called Team Impact, where a child with a chronic or life-threatening illness is "adopted" by a team, attending their practices, games, and other team events, to build a relationship with the coaches and players and make them feel like a true team member.
The men's lacrosse team's Team Impact player is an eighth grader named Mikey Calabrese, who has a rare liver disease called biliary atresia. He was diagnosed with the condition when he was only seven weeks old, and after years of waiting for a donor, he recently had a liver transplant that has him in and out of the hospital for the next few months. A few members of the team, including sophomore Greg Barletta and juniors JP Masaryk and Ryan Tassan, have spent an exceptional amount of time with Mikey since the fall and have gotten to know him very well.
"Earlier this year, Coach Higgins asked our team who would be able to spare some extra time to dedicate to Mikey when he comes to visit," says Ryan. "I jumped on this opportunity, and so did many other guys. He was taken in by the whole team, but a smaller group would meet him before our lifts and practices, and walk him out afterward."
According to the team, it took a few weeks for Mikey to warm up to the team when he first started making visits to campus back in September, but he has come a long way since then. "I took it upon myself to crack him open because everyone else was so busy. To see him open means the world to me," says JP, who could not partake in practices and lifts in the fall due to concussions, so he had plenty of time to devote to Mikey.
The boys talked a lot about Mikey's love for basketball, and how whenever he visits they usually shoot hoops in the gym or play a 2-on-2 game with him. "He also came for 'Halloween on Vernon' in the fall but we spent very little time trick-or-treating, and instead spent a whole 2 hours playing pickup basketball. You could tell he was super excited to just be spending time with us, it was great to see," says Ryan. "A few weeks ago, he came to visit and me and Scott Morgan [another sophomore on the team] and we just hung out in high rise with him while playing NBA 2k17 on Xbox. I drove him back home to Glastonbury after, and the whole thing was very casual, just like friends hanging out," Greg describes of some time he spent with Mikey recently.
After the surgery a few weeks ago, Mikey was first staying at The Ronald McDonald House of New Haven, a residential place for patients to stay close to the children's hospital after serious surgeries, but he informed the team he was able to return home a short time later. Greg, Scott, JP and Ryan all visited Mikey at the hospital after the surgery on several occasions, and they said it was definitely hard to see him going through such a difficult time, as well as seeing his parents have to watch their child go through this process.
"It's great to help out his parents since they're always having to do so much for him. Also, since he isn't in school right now, he doesn't spend much time with people outside his family, but with us, he has a whole team of friends," Greg says. "We all have a great amount of respect for Mikey. He's been fighting for his entire life and we want to help him and his family in any way we can," Ryan stated. "The most important thing for us is to be good role models for him. The friendships he makes with us and the memories created that hopefully he'll keep forever are the ultimate gifts we can give him," JP added.
While the team's relationship with Mikey has definitely helped him through this rough patch, he has also made a great impact on the players themselves and gave them an alternative perspective to sports and life in general. "The time we've spent with Mikey has taught us to be thankful for both our health and every opportunity we get to play. I appreciate athletics a lot more now. Not necessarily because I love the game more, but because I am able to see the good that it can inspire," Ryan Explained. "Coach Higgins often tells us that lacrosse is just a game. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be as passionate as we are about it; he just means that there are things that are bigger than the game and struggles that are more significant than what we experience on the field."
JP brought up how he can relate to Mikey on some level because of his brain injuries through sports. "It's refreshing to have this connection with Mikey in my life to push me and make me want to be a better person around him," he said.
Mikey has been doing very well since the surgery, despite the gravity of the situation. Although the team's schedule is becoming very busy with games starting up, they are all definitely looking forward to Mikey's next visit and to see him cheering on the sidelines of practices and games.
Written by Chandler Solimine '19