He may not have the height, but this new player certainly has the strength and the heart to join Worcester Polytechnic Institute's men's basketball team.
Boston-headquartered national nonprofit Team IMPACT, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children facing serious and chronic illnesses through the power of team, along with WPI Men's Basketball, held a special draft day celebration for 12-year-old Liam Fitzgerald of Northborough, Massachusetts, Thursday at the WPI Sports and Recreation Center in Worcester. Liam, known to area sports fans as the Boston Bruins' "fist bump kid," was diagnosed in 2006 with leukemia.
Through Team IMPACT's program at Division III WPI, Liam, the top recruit, will become an official member of the men's basketball team. As a team member, Liam will attend the Engineers' practices, games, team dinners, events and more.
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Team IMPACT connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams, forming lifelong bonds and life-changing outcomes. Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched more than 1,500 children with more than 500 colleges and universities in 48 states, reaching over 50,000 participating student-athletes. The child joins the athletic team and the student-athletes join the child's support team. Throughout the journey, the child gains strength, camaraderie and support while the student-athletes experience lessons of courage, resiliency and perspective they can't learn in a classroom.
WPI has a long history of signing Team IMPACT athletes to its teams, most recently in football, baseball, and women's softball.
Two hundred campers chanted Liam's name Thursday as he took his time signing his name on the dotted line. He didn't take all the credit for his success, though. They first words out of his mouth were about his biggest fan.
"I'm happy my mom's here," he said.
Christine Fitzgerald walked in not knowing her son was being honored.
"Every time I see him try something and I see him get excited about it and other people get excited about it, I feel like he is just as good as the other kids here as they are for him," said Fitzgerald.
You could say Liam brings the heat when it comes to being in the spotlight. You might remember him from a viral video for the Bruins. Liam was lucky enough to go down to the bench for warmups before a Bruins game. He sat at the end of the bench, fist-bumping each player as they left the ice. Video of the adorable interactions went viral, and Liam became something of a celebrity. Trading card company Upper Deck even gave Liam his own card.
"That's when you see his personality come out when he's doing something he likes he's just beaming and that's what showed on the bench that day," said Fitzgerald.