University Of Hartford Sports Teams Reach Out

WEST HARTFORD — T-Bone stood on third base and glanced at the University of Hartford baseball players lined up on the foul line cheering for him. Then he tipped his cap to them.

Ryan Carter, a junior right-handed pitcher at Hartford, loves telling that story. He was one of the eight or so guys from the team who went to Thomas Hastings' T-ball game in the spring. Thomas, aka T-Bone, is 7 years old. He loves the Red Sox. He loves baseball. He loves his friends from the Hartford baseball team. When he was a year old, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a disorder in which muscles get weaker with age and for which there is no cure.

Thomas, who lives in Windsor, was partnered with the Hartford baseball team through a Massachusetts-based program called Team IMPACT, which pairs children with life-threatening illnesses or life-altering chronic conditions with college athletic teams.

The Hartford men's soccer team is also part of the program. Bryson Kelly, 10, of Rocky Hill, has mitochondrial disorder (in which food is not converted to energy for the body and the person affected is easily fatigued). He was paired up with the soccer team in August.

"His brother and sister go off to their different activities and he would say to me, 'What's my activity?'" said Bryson's mom, Tyyne Kelly. "It breaks your heart. I'd tell him, 'You're going to the occupational therapist.'"

That's definitely not as fun as going to hang out with soccer guys.

"It's been an opportunity for him to be a part of the team," Tyyne said.

Same with Thomas.

"When he first started playing T-ball, he was at the same skill level with the other kids," said Thomas' father, Brad. "As he's gotten older, his friends have gone off to more competitive teams and he's lost out on that opportunity."

"Now [with Hartford], he's integrated with a team. He gets that experience, physically and psychologically, to be part of the real team. He talks about the guys. He looks forward to seeing them. They are his teammates. It's an experience he can't get any other way."

Thomas, who still can walk and run around on the baseball field but tires easily and uses a wheelchair to go longer distances, went to a number of Hartford baseball games last spring. He got his own locker in the Hartford locker room a few weeks ago. On Saturday, he went to the alumni game at Hartford and was able to decorate his locker.

"Most of the time, you don't get to choose what team you get involved with," Brad said. "My son's a total baseball nut. I just put in a special request, if you could hook him up with a baseball team, that would be great."

Bryson was going to see his locker Saturday for the first time and then going to the Binghamton-Hartford soccer game at night.

"The kindest thing I've ever seen was 11 guys coming to our house for his 10th birthday," Tyyne said. "What college guys want to hang out with a 10-year-old on a Saturday afternoon? They were so sweet. It was the first time he wanted to have a friend at his birthday party to show his friend his teammates."

"He has a hard time keeping up with other kids, so developing friendships is tricky for him."

Hartford baseball coach Justin Blood already has his team involved in community service. They have worked with the RBI program in Hartford, trying to help revive baseball in the city; the Miracle League, a baseball league for children with disabilities; and they've volunteered at Jamie's Run 5K every fall in Wethersfield.

Team IMPACT was more of a commitment. That was fine with Blood. He was all in.

"Thomas hasn't officially been what they called 'drafted' into the program," Blood said. "So we're going to do a signing day [for him] in November around the national letter of intent signing day."

This summer, Carter played for the Danbury Westerners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He thought it would be cool if Thomas could throw out the first pitch at a game. So he made it happen.

"Thomas got to throw out the first pitch, got a ball signed and got a T-shirt with his name on it," Carter said. "The family had a good experience."

Carter, who grew up in Proctor, Vt., has a deeper connection than most.

"I had a younger brother who passed away at an early age," he said. "I definitely have a strong connection because of that. I definitely want to help anybody that's facing any physical, mental, whatever kind of challenge they have. If you can make their life better for a day, or a year, I want to try to do that. Whether it be now or going forward."

They are making a difference. Thomas, who also has scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine), will have surgery for the 10th time on his back in November. The Hawks will be there for him.

Bryson, who tires easily and used to sit on a bench or a swing at recess at school, now kicks a soccer ball back and forth with a friend, his mom reports.

"Just the fact that he is willing to kick a ball back and forth…" Tyyne said. "Looking at Bryson and his level of confidence … it's changed dramatically in the last couple months. It's been an amazing experience so far."

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