Since its establishment in 2011, the Boston-based nonprofit Team IMPACT has been connecting young people living with serious or chronic illnesses with college sports teams. Their mission is to foster connections and improve the lives of everyone involved.
Last month, the nonprofit was able to connect 15-year-old Moorestown resident Matthew Pollard with the Rowan University football team. The team welcomed its newest member on Oct. 25 with a draft day celebration where Pollard signed an official National Letter of Intent.
According to Rowan University Head Football Coach Jay Accorsi, Team IMPACT reached out to his department over the summer to see if it would be interested in meeting Pollard and bringing him on the team.
“When this approached, I thought it would be a great thing for our players and coaches to be involved in, and it just worked out,” Accorsi said.
After all arrangements were made between the university and nonprofit, the team finally met Pollard and wasted no time getting him involved. The Moorestown High School sophomore was there with the team for its first home game of the season and even performed the coin toss before the first play.
While Accorsi has been more than happy to lend his team to IMPACT’s cause, he believes his guys get just as much out of the experience as the Pollard family.
“We always talk to our players obviously about the football part of being a college student athlete and the academic part, but there’s that whole other part about community, service and family and all those things that are just as important, if not more important these days,” Accorsi said.
According to Pollard, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 5 years old, his love of football stemmed from growing up watching the Eagles play each week with his family. In addition to managing a fantasy football roster, Pollard enjoys flag football and has played regularly since he was in fourth grade.
His mother Elizabeth says other than his regular visits to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), having to utilize a chest compression vest and his medication, her son has been able to lead a relatively normal life for a teenager in spite of his condition.
It was through a social worker at CHOP that the Pollards were introduced to Team IMPACT.
“Matthew has a particular interest in football so we were very fortunate they were able to pair us up with the Rowan University football team,” Elizabeth Pollard said.
Matthew Pollard has been enjoying the time he has been able to spend getting to know the Rowan football team during practices and says he couldn’t wait for his draft day celebration.
“It was very exciting,” he recalled. “I had been looking forward to it for a while and when the day finally came, I couldn’t wait.”
At the draft day press conference where he signed his National Letter of Intent, Pollard, along with senior wide receiver Elijah Rehm, reenacted a memorable scene from one of the team’s recent home games.
At the game, Pollard was standing near the end zone when Rehm scored an 80-yard touchdown run. He tossed the ball to Pollard, who gave it a celebratory spike. The game ended in a solid 52-7 victory for Rowan.
As a parent, Elizabeth Pollard has been grateful for what her son has been able to experience through the Rowan partnership and has enjoyed watching the team become something of a mentorship for Matthew.
“Having a chronic medical disease, it helps to take his mind off cystic fibrosis and school in general and it has been a nice social outlet for him to spend time with the players and coaches,” she said. “It’s been a really nice relationship.”
Matthew Pollard is looking forward to finishing out the season with the team, spending more time with the guys post-season and meeting the new players next year.
“It’s just about giving back,” Accorsi said. “I think this would be a much safer, calmer and more beautiful world if we cared about each other a little more, in just little ways. When you do little things like this, I think it helps foster that.”
For more information about Team IMPACT and its work, visit goteamimpact.org.