One of the guys

Rebecca Castagna and Zack Daly

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The sun soaks the Quinnipiac turf as the men’s lacrosse team walks onto the field for yet another home game. Leading the Bobcats onto the field isn’t their captains or coach; it’s a 12-year-old boy named Connor Scalia.

Connor has been battling Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS), which is a rare respiratory disorder. On top of that, he has had Chiari malformations, a structural defect of the cerebellum, that have required  him to have brain surgery in the past.

Photo by Rebecca Castagna

Photo by Rebecca Castagna

Connor was introduced to the Quinnipiac men’s lacrosse team through Team Impact, an organization that pairs children with terminal or chronic illnesses with a college team. Their goal is to give children the chance to feel what it is like to be part of a team.

Head coach Eric Fekete sees this as a chance for Connor to feel connected even as physical limitations plague him.

“As he is aging more and getting into more physical play, he has to wean away from some of those things so this has been a great supplement timing wise to get him involved,” Fekete said. “He loves hockey and he loves lacrosse [and he wanted] to keep his passion for the sports going even though he can’t participate as fully as he may like to.”

Quinnipiac was a natural fit for the Scalia family, since they are fans of the school and attend ice hockey and lacrosse games regularly. Connor’s mother, Alyssa, was looking for something more than just a team to adopt her son. She was looking for the team to have an impact on her son’s life.

“What I was hoping to get from this was some role models for Connor and to show him there are ways of being involved in a sport without necessarily being able to play the sport,” Alyssa said.

The Bobcats immediately took Connor in and made him a member of the team. He is a fixture at team activities such as team yoga, team meals, joining them on the sidelines during games and traveling for certain road games. The team treats him like one of the guys.

“I asked him if he would be OK if he had to put his ventilator on since he wasn’t doing well one day when he was there,” Alyssa said. “And he said ‘No, I would never be embarrassed. They’re not just my friends; they’re like my brothers.’ That’s exactly what I was hoping to get from this.”

The men’s lacrosse team may have changed the Scalia family for the better, but the impact Connor has had on the team may even be greater.

“I think for me and a lot of the guys, it’s been very humbling to have Connor around because his spirit and his attitude are always great,” Fekete said. “He faces certain adversities or battles everyday that we don’t. Having the opportunity to use our skill set to help somebody else is a gift for all of us.”

Photo by Rebecca Castagna

Photo by Rebecca Castagna

Connor has changed how the Bobcats look at the game and their own athletic abilities. Pat Corcoran, a junior midfielder, grew up around lacrosse. His father started and coached his youth lacrosse program, but he never understood why parents coached for no pay. His dad told him it was to give back to the community.

“When this came along, I felt this was a good opportunity to give back for all that lacrosse and school have given to me,” Corcoran said. “I feel like I have to give back to Connor because he can’t physically play lacrosse and hockey. He can be a part of our team through us.”

Greg Pendergast, a junior defender, was constantly around college teams growing up because his dad was a football coach. He can relate to Connor because he sees a bit of his younger self in him.

“The college players were my heroes; they were like gods to me,” Pendergast said. “For me to be able to give that opportunity to someone else, especially to someone in his position, it really has meant a lot.”

While Connor has impacted the entire team, he has had the biggest effect on senior attack Brandon Kuring. This past fall, Kuring tore his ACL and thought his playing career might be over. Having Connor there has helped spin Kuring’s perspective.

“Being around Connor has made me realize there is more to a team than just being a player,” Kuring said. “It’s also being there for the guys and trying to get the morale of the team up.

Connor has brought that whole idea into perspective for me.”

On top of his injury last fall, Kuring can relate closely with the Scalia family because his cousin is battling a terminal disease.

“With my cousin having a terminal disease, I know, sort of, what the family is going through,” Kuring said. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I wish I could do it for my cousin and I wish it for every single kid.”

Thanks to Team Impact, the Bobcat family and the Scalia family have become one, and Connor and his family fit into the bigger scheme of Fekete’s vision for the men’s lacrosse program.

“There are so many kids playing and so much talent out there, but we’ve still relied philosophically here that we want to identify the best players, but bring in the best quality people to this program,” Fekete said.

The Bobcats have their youngest member of their team, and while he may not play on the field, Connor Scalia’s presence on the team is just as important to those who are on the field.