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For the past three seasons the Harvard men’s lacrosse team has partnered with Team IMPACT, a Boston based organization that pairs kids with serious illness and disability with college sports teams. In order to draw awareness to the program, the squad decided to make its fall intra-team scrimmage, known as The Burrito Bowl, a Team IMPACT Awareness game. By doing so last season, the team was able to surpass its fundraising goal by almost 300%.
Harvard has been paired for the last three years with its teammate Braxton. Team IMPACT traditionally assigns kids to Division-1 programs for a rotation of two seasons. These “buddies” are then rotated off, sometimes to a different team. However, Braxton has become such an integral part of the program that he has become Harvard’s “All-Star,” or permanent buddy. His impact on the Harvard program goes beyond the field, and has become the beating heart of the program.
“A buddy gets matched with a team for two years, that’s how long Team IMPACT sort of sponsors a buddy with a team, and after that two years you have a meeting with the parents and the liaison for Team IMPACT, to figure out if you want to graduate your buddy to an All-Star, which means they are permanently a part of the team, until they outgrow that,” junior defender Max Ewald stated. “That’s after the two year mark. So, Braxton is technically an All-Star for us at this point since we are still in touch with Braxton independent of Team IMPACT support.”
Braxton’s position as an All-Star member of the men’s lacrosse team extends far beyond the field. The players, especially Ewald and junior middie Owen Gaffney, have worked to make Braxton an included and important member of the team. Ewald especially has formed a special relationship with Braxton, dedicating hours of his time to checking in, and hanging out.
“We do lots of hanging out, a lot of phone calls, a lot of texting. Checking in on Braxton, letting him know that he’s not alone. He’s going through his own issues, but he’s got 55 guys who’ve got his back at all times, and he should remember that,” Ewald noted. “We’ve also done lots of fun things. We’ve gone to museums together, we’ve gone canoeing in The Charles. We’ve watched Halloween movies together, and I think we’re doing that next weekend as well.”
Working with Braxton has also positively impacted the Harvard players as well. It’s put into perspective the blessing of not just being able to compete at such a high level, but of being able to move and play the sport of lacrosse. Gaffney lauded that Team IMPACT’s work has helped to form a community for the buddies being paired with the athletic programs. He said that oftentimes these kids are misunderstood, and that Team IMPACT provides an immediate support system for both the kids and their families to lean on.
“They really are making an impact on the world. These pairings are significantly changing these kids' lives. Oftentimes these kids are misunderstood, and then they get paired with these Division-1 teams, and have a bunch of friends, a bunch of great athletes, who stand with them no matter what. It gives them a bunch of confidence and a foundation to be able to hang their head on.”
Frisbie Family Head Coach Gerry Byrne is an avid supporter of the squad’s dedication to amplifying the voice of Team IMPACT. He recognizes the power of being a member of the Harvard community, as well as the sacrifice and dedication it took his players to reach such a prestigious position.
“I think they realize that they are always playing for something a little bit more, especially when you’re at Harvard. Your family, your friends and all the people who helped to get you here. That perspective of appreciation allows you to be open to thinking about somebody who is maybe less fortunate or less physically able than you,” Byrne explained. “I think where they come from and how they got here makes them open to supporting an organization like Team IMPACT.”
Byrne also highlighted the humility and perspective that comes with playing for Braxton. Playing for Team IMPACT gives the squad a sense of purpose, and allows the team to use its influence to help include and uplift its buddy. However, Ewald noted that Team IMPACT does not have enough buddies to pair with participating Division-I teams. He hopes that by dedicating games to Team IMPACT, and by drawing awareness to the organization, that more buddies might be able to join and bring the joy and energy Braxton brings to Harvard, to other schools.
“Being able to have an awareness game - I absolutely love it. The biggest issue with Team IMPACT is that they don’t have enough matches. There’s tons of teams that want to do Team IMPACT, and the fact that they can’t find buddies, I think that games like this are perfect for that. To get the name out there, and to get kids all the benefits that Team IMPACT brings, as well as the benefits the team receives from having a buddy as well.”
The team views Braxton as a part of its family, and so has the goal of raising money for Team IMPACT so that other programs might experience the same camaraderie. Going into the Burrito Bowl on Friday, the squad had the goal of raising $15,000 for Team IMPACT and for families like Braxton’s.
“Braxton’s one of our teammates, he’s one of our brothers. His smile is infectious. He’s out there on the sideline braving the cold, and he’s supporting us just as much as we are supporting him. It means everything.”
-Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at email@example.com
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