Team IMPACT impacts Golden Grizzlies

By Katlynn Emaus

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On Nov. 24, Oakland University’s women’s basketball team signed its newest member, 11-year-old Sofia Floros. She will be sporting jersey number 13.

The team has recently become involved with a program called Team IMPACT. The organization matches chronically ill children with a college sports team.

“Sofia benefits by being a part of a team.  She will have the opportunity to gain 15 new sisters as part of her family,” women’s basketball head coach Jeff Tungate said.

“Our team benefits from this program by realizing there is great responsibility that comes with putting on an Oakland University uniform.  We have the opportunity to impact lives.  That’s much more important than any basketball game.”

To welcome Floros, the team reached out through texts and emails to the girl. They even surprised her with a national letter of intent press conference.

Floros sits behind the bench at all the games and hangs out with the players in the locker room.

“Our players have made her an official member of this program, I hope this brings great joy to Sofia and we can build a relationship between her and our players that will last a lifetime,” Tungate said.

“Life is about making a difference.  And if our team can make a difference in Sofia’s life, we obviously want to be a part of that.”

Women’s basketball is not the only Oakland sport involved with Team IMPACT. Both volleyball and swimming and diving have signed a child through the program. Volleyball signed 11-year-old Hannah Roddis.

“I have been aware of organizations that pair collegiate athletic programs with youths with illnesses through various media outlets, but Breann Reveley specifically brought Team Impact to our attention,” head volleyball coach Rob Beam said.

“I had wanted to do this as a program activity in previous years and so when Bre asked to register and we were matched with Hannah so quickly, I was thrilled.”

Much like the basketball team, Roddis gained a group of older sisters. According to Beam, Roddis knows that she has a support group that is outside of her family and school friends she can count on.

Roddis also has the opportunity to learn from the student-athletes and see them as role models. The players also get to learn from the young girl.

“Our players not only receive the benefits of Hannah’s friendship and the camaraderie of being with her whole family, but it allows them to see the broader picture outside of just life as a student-athlete,” Beam explained.

“Hannah is facing a difficult chronic disease and so being with her is a reminder to all of us how fortunate we are to be healthy and be able to compete in a sport we love.”

The team was officially complete the day that Roddis signed her letter of intent.

“Truthfully, we had already met with Hannah and the players had taken her to the pool and they had cheered her on at one of her swim meets,” Beam said.

“Since then they have gone to a cider mill, gone to a movie, and went to her birthday party.  Hannah has also been a regular at our matches and even has made road trips to see us play.”

12–year-old Devon Wolbert signed with the swim team in April. Assistant swim coach Shawn Kornoelje has a lot of experience working with people who are physically disabled.

Kornoelje has a history of coaching paralympians and is also married to an incomplete quadriplegic.

“I hope this teaches us perspective, to consider yourself fortunate for what you have and not dwell on the negatives. I’ve done that with all the paralympic athletes I’ve worked with and also being married to a person with a disability. When you have a bad day, you realize that this person is going through more and persevering through more than you on a daily basis,” Kornoelje said.

The team has done a lot to help welcome Wolbert. They surprised him after a doctor’s visit and a group of team members went to his birthday party over summer.

“It is tough for a 12-year-old to hang out with 18 to 20 year old men and women, but it was a get-to-know-you-better situation,” Kornoelje explained.  

“He came over a couple of times just to hang out. He likes video games and our guys like video games, so it just seemed natural. I hope he feels wanted here, because he really is.”

The Horizon League swimming and diving championships are being hosted at Oakland, and Kornoelje is looking to get Wolbert involved during all five days of the event. The more Wolbert is around and the more the team is around him, the better he gets to know everyone.

 “We want him to be involved,” Kornoelje said. “That is the beauty of being part of a team: to have people support you, help you grow and build and do positive things.”