Cal State East Bay’s Track and Cross Country team ‘drafts’ 11-year-old local
When 11-year-old Bella LaVigne, called “Bella Girl” by her family and friends, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma a year ago, to say that her life was transformed is an understatement. The daily activities of the active adolescent, who loves dance lessons and playing sports, were sidelined.
But today, after months of treatment for the rare cancer of the adrenal glands, which is almost singular to children, Cal State East Bay’s Track and Cross Country team is hoping to interject some fun back into LaVigne’s life.
Through a national nonprofit organization called Team IMPACT, which matches sports teams with children facing life-threatening or chronic illness, several of Cal State East Bay’s athletics teams applied this summer to participate with kids in the Bay Area. In August, the Track and Cross Country team was notified that they had been given the opportunity to work with LaVigne, a Hayward native.
“Team IMPACT’s goal is to help children build confidence, optimism and self-belonging through connection with a sports team,” said Ellen Augsburger, relationship manager for the organization. “We focus on sports teams because we want to promote that teamwork and camaraderie that being a part of a team brings. A lot of these children feel that all they have is the medical community and we want them to have a greater sense of belonging — like they’re part of something bigger than a diagnosis.”
Over the next two years, the Cal State East Bay team will meet with LaVigne twice a month and plan special activities for her, both related to their sport and centered on her interests.
Senior Kandace Compton and her teammates recently got the chance to learn about LaVigne at a meet-and-greet session on the track.
“Bella was shy at first but seemed really excited by the end,” Compton said. “She said she wants to be an artist when she grows up, so I think it would be fun to plan an arts and crafts day for her.”
Coach Tony Nicolosi added that in addition to outside events, LaVigne will become an official member of the team, attending any track and cross country meets she wants.
“These experiences can be very traumatic for a kid’s confidence and social life, and that’s where we want to really make her feel welcome and a part of our team,” Nicolosi said. “We hope she comes any time she can to watch us compete.”
But before the events can begin, LaVigne must formally accept the team’s offer through an official Team IMPACT “Draft Day.” Friday, Oct. 13 at 12:45 p.m. LaVigne will sign a National Letter of Intent, take part in a mock press conference and be gifted Cal State East Bay swag in the manner of a wooed professional athlete. The track and cross country team is also cooking up other surprises for the day.
“It’s inspiring to me,” Compton said. “Someone going through this in her life — if we can make just a little part of her life more happy, a little bit of her day better, that’s what’s important.”