NEW BRITAIN - Ericka Aponte-Rodriguez, a 15-year-old New Britain resident battling lymphoma, never knew she could have as big a family as the one she has now.
But after signing a National Letter of Intent with the CCSU women’s basketball team this weekend as a part of Team IMPACT’s program to match college teams with children who have been diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness, the Blue Devils made sure Rodriguez knew her family now included a lot more sisters who are committed to helping her through a battle she has been fighting for nearly a year.
“I asked her, ‘did you ever think you would have 15 older sisters?’” CCSU head coach Beryl Piper said of her conversation with Rodriguez on Saturday. “That’s how the team has been with her. We told her she has 15 big sisters now.”
The Blue Devils welcomed Rodriguez to the family on Saturday afternoon with an official press conference to acknowledge the team’s newest addition. After practice, the team brought Rodriguez to the locker room to show her a locker with her own nameplate and her own uniform, which she will wear during the season when she comes for games at CCSU to be a ball girl or support the team she is now a part of.
“I think it’s awesome,” Piper said. “We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know her and who she is. Our kids are doing a great job developing that relationship.”
When the Blue Devils were first contacted by Team IMPACT, who saw Rodriguez as a good fit for the team and another opportunity to honor a child’s brave fight against a life-threatening illness, Piper and CCSU were thrilled to welcome a new Blue Devil to the family.
“The big thing with Team IMPACT is allowing teams to adopt these kids that have these things going on in their life,” Piper said. “Your social life changes and just having people to support you and be there for you is an amazing thing. “
Piper’s players share their coach’s sentiment, regularly texting Rodriguez and organizing times for them all to go out to dinner and help Rodriguez become more acquainted with her new team. She will continue to get acclimated by attending team practices, events and eventually games when the season begins on Nov. 5.
The entire Blue Devils team showed up to welcome Rodriguez on Saturday, and look forward to having her with the team this season, to remind them a missed shot or a dribble off the foot simply isn’t that big of a deal, considering the battles others are currently facing.
“When you think you have it bad and see what these kids are going through, it puts things in perspective,” Piper said.
The basketball team isn’t alone in this movement at CCSU. Last month, the softball team gathered to welcome 8-year-old Abigail Zittoun to the team, while the men’s basketball and football teams have also partnered up with Team IMPACT to help children who could benefit from a bigger support family, and in turn, help themselves feel fulfilled.
“For us, giving to the community is so important,” Piper said. “Not just CCSU, but the [Northeast Conference] as a whole. Any time we can do something to make a life better, that’s an amazing thing. We really want to be great role models to young kids in the area.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org