TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The wide-eyed look on her face made it all worthwhile.
Friday afternoon, the University of Alabama soccer team held a special signing ceremony and press conference to welcome the addition of Kylie Hosey to her “favorite team.” The 10-year-old with leukemia was presented with a team contract, a framed copy of which will be prominently displayed in the team’s locker room, and No. 5 Crimson Tide jersey.
“She’s happy as a lark,” said Kylie’s grandfather Joe Apchley, who attended the ceremony with his wife Pat. “She’s excited.”
The latest addition to the team had few words and let the smile do most of her talking for her.
“How often do you see a 10-year-old girl speechless?” said junior midfielder Maddy Anzlec, who spearheaded Alabama “drafting” Kylie through the TEAM Impact program.
Last July, Kylie started having pain in her joints, and after a doctor visit was quickly referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The initial diagnosis was juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, but the pain continued.
It was during a follow-up visit that a lab technician noticed that something wasn’t right in her bloodwork, which led to the leukemia diagnosis. School and sports were out, and she immediately began chemotherapy.
Kylie had played soccer for a couple of years as a defender and had hair down to her waist. She’s since lost it, and will see it fall out again.
“Her prognosis is good,” said her grandfather. “But she will be on chemo for about two more years.”
Anzlec, who hails from Medina, Ohio, had heard about Team IMPACT from her mom. The national non-profit organization headquartered in Boston has the mission of improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses by pairing them with athletic teams.
Anzlec went to her coach, expressing interest about getting the team involved and Wes Hart said the decision was a “no brainer.” School officials had already started working with Team Impact and last month the baseball team drafted Jack Plowman, a 9-year-old from nearby Gordo, Ala., who was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma.
It only recently was able to pair the Alabama soccer team with Kylie.
“We’re getting a player with a ton of fight in her, and a ton of heart,” Hart said.
Although the soccer team is in the middle of spring practices, with a game looming Sunday at Memphis, the players decorated the team’s facilities with streamers, balloons and banners that everyone signed to help Kylie feel welcome. She froze when entering the room.
“It’s bigger than us, so it’s so cool to have everyone get involved with this,” Anzlec said. “We’re so busy, collegiate athletes, with school and sports, but for everyone to take time out to do something that’s bigger that ourselves, it just brings us closer because we’re doing it for her.
“It helps brings a whole different meaning to the team.”
As for Kylie, she only needed one word to describe the experience: “Awesome.”