JACKSON, Tenn. - 2/9/2010 - By Joe Ladisa, Union University Cardinal & Cream
The men’s basketball team tipped off the 2009–10 season, Nov. 7, against William Woods University, Mo. In front of a crowd clad in this season’s black shirts labeled “The Fred,” the Bulldogs completed Homecoming with a 108–51 win. After the team began its season, though, they faced quite a different journey.
On the same night the Bulldogs played their first game, they met someone with whom they will have an ongoing relationship. Putting aside their time on a night filled with homecoming events, the 13-player team introduced themselves to Nicholas Carter.
The “adoption” took place in the locker room after the game. Carter was introduced to each member of the team.
Carter is part of the Friends of Jaclyn Organization, which seeks to build relationships between high school or collegiate sports teams and children with brain tumors. FOJ is a nationwide organization that currently provides 120 children with a sponsor.
The movement to sponsor Carter began this summer with a television special that featured FOJ. When David Niven, first-year head coach of the men’s basketball team, discovered FOJ, he took immediate action to get his team involved.
“I contacted Friends of Jaclyn to see what needed to take place,” Niven said.
He found out involvement with FOJ would mean being added to a 400-team waiting list. Niven said he initially gave up hope of anything developing upon hearing this news.
This fall, however, Niven received a call from FOJ. The Memphis resident and son of a Union alumnus needed a team to sponsor him. Niven showed the TV special to the team at a practice and they unanimously decided to adopt the child. Carter will have his own Union basketball jersey, as well as a locker with the team, complete with a nameplate.
Before the adoption was first set to take place, Carter was hospitalized for complications from his medical issues. But this delay in the adoption did not delay building relationships with the players. During the two weeks Carter was in the hospital, each of the 13 players contacted him.
Carter has a CaringBridge Web site, which creates a place for patients to communicate with the people in their lives. Patients can provide information about their illnesses and treatment while friends, family, or in some cases basketball teams, can leave a message of encouragement for the patient to read. The team took advantage of this, making sure to wish Carter well while waiting for him to join the team.
The belated adoption officially took place on Nov. 7, the night of Union’s homecoming game. The team included Carter in its post-game activities, as he took part in the team’s locker-room circle and prayer, where team members specifically prayed over him.
“It is a good thing for our team as a part of Union University,” said Daniel Kelley, freshmen biology major and guard on the team. “It makes us go outside ourselves.”
But to portray the sponsorship as a “vehicle” for the team to fulfill their own goals would be unfair to their true motives.
“Nicholas has been through so much the last few weeks with being in the hospital for extended periods of time, and to have 13 of the greatest guys, coaches and other team staff behind us … has meant so much to us as a family,” said Amy Carter, Nicholas’s mother and Union alumnus. “We know that these will be lifelong connections that he is making with these incredible young men.”
She said her son has gained 13 brothers.
Niven recalled what it was like to be Carter’s age and said it would be meaningful for an older team to take an interest in someone younger.
“It’s an encouragement that he can make it through,” said Kelley, displaying the team’s focus on encouraging Carter.
Kelley said Carter should know he can go to college or have a successful career.
On Nov. 7, Carter was going to Union University. For the student body and the Jackson community, this night represented homecoming and the start of a new season. But for Nicholas Carter, that Saturday night was a celebration of coming home as a Union Bulldog and the beginning of many long-lasting relationships.
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