WALTHAM – Annelizabeth Jean Baptiste spotted the giant “A” and foam “No. 1” finger on the center table of Brandeis University’s Gosman Center Trophy Room and knew right away they were for her.
In most ways, the whole day was for the 7-year-old Waltham resident who got to watch the Judges women’s soccer team beat Lasell College, 4-0, Sunday afternoon, then officially became part of the team after the game when she signed a Letter of Intent with the program and was presented with a No. 10 Judges jersey and name plate to go above her locker.
Annelizabeth battles sickle-cell anemia, has to take medication each day, and sometimes has to be hospitalized for pain management. But she was all smiles on Sunday as she watched the game from the sideline, took part in the team stretching after the game, and enjoyed a postgame reception in her honor.
“I think it’s nice to give back to the community,” Brandeis coach Denise Dallamora said. “She is a lovely young lady and I think we’ve got some great role models for her. I also think it puts everything in perspective. Lots of things can happen to you. You get to play the best game in the world. Think about that.”
The connection was made through Team IMPACT – a Boston-based organization that brings together children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams in the hopes of forming life-long bonds and life-changing outcomes.
“When we were talking with the parent groups of other children with her disease,” said Maguerre Jean Baptiste, Annelizabeth’s father who was born in Haiti and has lived in Waltham for 20 years, “we met a lot of other parents and they were talking about Team IMPACT. We asked them: ‘How does it work?’ They explained it to us and we went to them and asked about it.
“Now look at her. It was so exciting. What they have done for her today – I am crying. I am so excited.”
The women’s soccer program became the sixth at the school in recent years to work with Team IMPACT to connect with a young person in the area who is battling an illness.
While Annelizabeth said she enjoyed watching the game, she seemed to enjoy the most the time she spent talking with the players and the school’s athletic staff.
“They make everything so fun and so funny,” she said. “They’re really friendly. We do a lot of coloring, playing family, and playing soccer.”
Brandeis sophomore midfielder Daria Bahktiari, of Wilmington, is one of the Judges who helped the program take Annelizbeth under the program’s wing this past spring.
“She really came up to us with open arms,” Bahktiaria said. “It just sounded like such a wonderful thing. She’s gotten to know us really well – playing ‘House’ is her favorite game. Just having a young player with a lot of energy has been really good.”
Annelizabeth said she has played a little bit of soccer, and enjoys watching the sport with her dad, but mostly looks forward to being around the players whether they are competing on the field or sitting around in a circle with her making her laugh.
“She loves it,” her father said. “Sometimes she comes here for one hour and she wants to stay over. For kids like her, who struggle with a disease, finding a program really helps. It really, really helps. Not only for the kids, but for us too as parents. It’s a relief for us.”
And, as much as the connection brings happiness to a 7-year-old whose days can sometimes be very difficult, it brings something to the Brandeis women’s soccer program as well.
“You might have a bad game or a tough day,” Brandeis assistant coach Mary Shimko said, “but Annelizabeth is always there smiling and having a positive attitude, so why can’t we?”
Scott Souza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.