CINCINNATI - A 12-year-old boy from Liberty Township is the newest and youngest member of the Xavier University men’s basketball team. It’s a dream come true for a youngster with an incurable disease.
Xavier coach Chris Mack and his team gave Trey Couch the same treatment a hot-shot recruit would get.
They held a signing ceremony for Trey and his family on Monday at the Cintas Center and Trey signed a national letter of intent.
He got a jersey and his teammates showed him his locker.
Trey had a courtside seat at practice and joined hands with players in the huddle. When it was time to break, Trey barked the order:
“1-2-3, Attack!” Trey said.
The message was clear: Trey is now part of the team.
Trey and Xavier connected through Team IMPACT, a New England-based non-profit that works with college teams to establish support networks for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
Team IMPACT says its goal is to create a long-term relationship with a team for the duration of the child's treatment and beyond.
“This is a great opportunity for our team,” Mack said. “Sometimes we look at our everyday challenges and think we have it tough. We try to teach our student-athletes that there are a lot stiffer challenges that other people have to face.”
Trey's parents are grateful that Xavier accepted him.
"A lot of kids out there have issues and struggle every day. For Trey to get this opportunity, we are no doubt very thankful for that," his father, Greg Couch, said.
At the signing ceremony, Trey, his parents and Mack sat on stage facing the players, who gathered where reporters usually sit at a post-game news conference.
Justin Martin, a junior forward, raised his hand to ask Trey a question.
"You were highly touted coming out of middle school. What made you pick the Musketeers?" Martin asked.
Trey appeared stumped until Mack leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"One heck of a basketball coach," Trey answered.
In October 2010, Trey was diagnosed with Cerebellar Degeneration, a disease with no known cure. The illness impacts the cerebellum, the area that controls coordination and balance, and over time it will lead to muscle deterioration throughout his body.
Team Impact has connected more than 300 kids to more than 100 colleges, said Maura Mahoney, Director of Case Management & Communications.
"The relationship helps the child get through their physical and psychological challenges," Mahoney said. "We believe it helps improve their quality of life."
Mahoney said Trey's family contacted Team IMPACT last year.
"Trey started playing basketball and football when he was 5, and his dad has been a coach, so the family is very athletically-oriented," Mahoney said.
"We try to match kids with teams in their area. I started working with one of the assistant coaches at Xavier and some of the players on the basketball team," Mahoney said.
Junior center Matt Stainbook and sophomore guard Semaj Christon took the lead in incorporating Trey with the team, Mahoney said.
"We have a training video and I go over that with the players," she said. "The colleges hold a 'draft day' or 'signing day' to welcome the child onto the team, and from that point on, he's one of the guys. He goes to practices and participates as any team member would."
Team IMPACT is a secular group started in 2011 and funded by friends who went to Tufts University, Mahoney said. The group just recently started expanding outside New England.
Read more about Team IMPACT at http://www.goteamimpact.org/index.php