Endicott, Team IMPACT a match made in heaven

Dec. 10—Ten years ago, Dan Kraft and his college friend Jay Calnan founded the non-profit organization Team IMPACT. Since then, the program has made a difference in countless young lives while helping to mold long-lasting relationships that otherwise would have ceased to exist.

Team IMPACT pairs kids and teenagers with serious illnesses to college sports teams. One of those colleges to regularly participate is Endicott College in Beverly, and it's safe to say that the result has been a match made in heaven.

It started about eight years back when Vince Skelton, a high school student who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, was matched with the Gulls' football team.

"I think our other teams saw that type of experience the team was having (with Skelton), and the student-athletes, coaches and community were having, and one by one more and more came on board," said Endicott's Associate Director of Athletics, Sean Quirk.

"I'm really fortunate that I see the growth of these young people, these children that come in and the connectivity that they have and confidence that they build within themselves. It's just a social network for them, too, and it's been great to be a part of."

Skelton has gone on to receive a Master's Degree from Merrimack College while remaining extremely close with members of the Endicott football team, including former player Luke Somers. Their bond in particular has continued to grow since they were first introduced to one another; it's those types of relationships that make Team IMPACT so special.

Today, there are numerous other young individuals following in Skelton's path at Endicott.

One of those exceptional young individuals is 11-year-old Sarina, who joined the women's hockey team at Endicott last year. Sarina, a Georgetown resident who was born with Down syndrome, got her own Draft Day, where she signed a National Letter of Intent with her new teammates to officially become a member of the squad.

"Sarina loves it and as long as we can be a part of it, we're all for it," said Sarina's mom, Staci. "All the girls and the head coach (Andrew McPhee) have been so welcoming to her. Sometimes it can be overwhelming where there's so many girls, but they're just all so sweet and patient with her. It's so nice to see."

Throughout her time with the team (which was admittedly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic last year), Sarina has been to practices, games and team dinners. She's also done things like go apple picking with the team during the fall, and they even held a drive-by car parade for Sarina's birthday during the pandemic.

Like many of the kids paired with college athletic programs, Sarina is a big sports fan. She's a huge Tom Brady fan, and floor hockey is one of her favorite activities; her mother says it's only a matter of time before she gets out on the ice to skate with the team.

"She's got her skates now and she's always like, 'When's my turn in the game?'," said Staci. "So we're hoping that will be one of our things we do this season. But she loves sports, she's very involved with Special Olympics and plays everything."

Through 11 games, the Endicott women's hockey team is ranked 7th in the country in Division 3 with a 9-2 record. The Gulls recently took down previously unbeaten and top-ranked Plattsburgh State before nearly upsetting No. 2 Middlebury the following day.

For lack of a better word, the addition of Sarina to the team and her overall presence has certainly made an impact on their on-ice successes.

"Her role on this team is critical; we're thankful for her strength and love," said Gulls' junior forward Morgan Sisson.

"The way I see this opportunity is not only are we leaving an impact on her life, but she's impacting our lives, too," added Sisson. "We value her personality and energy; it's a constant reminder to be good, supportive teammates and put forth our best efforts on and off the ice."

Sarina's experience with Team IMPACT and the Gulls' women's hockey team is just getting started. The hope is that she'll be more and more involved as the more normalized season rolls on.

Her story is just one of the many remarkable ones to stem from the ever-growing foundation, and with so much positive feedback throughout the Endicott community, it certainly won't be the last.

Contact Nick Giannino at NGiannino@Salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.

Contact Nick Giannino at NGiannino@Salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.