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Hope and Belonging

Basketball teams connect with children facing serious and chronic illnesses

Men's basketball team and team impact player posing in the locker room

Cash Klinkenberg is hoisted up as he joins the men’s basketball team in the locker room. Photo submitted

From The Ichabod - Spring 2022
By Jeremy Wangler

Lori Klinkenberg was watching her 8-year-old son, Cash, play basketball with his brother when he made his first ever basket. He started cheering, “Washburn for the win!”

For a child with multiple genetic disorders and complications at birth that gave him a stroke in utero, Cash is the real winner. He was connected with the Washburn University men’s basketball team four years ago through Team IMPACT, an organization that tackles emotional trauma and social isolation experienced by children facing serious and chronic illnesses by matching them with a college athletic team. Head Coach Brett Ballard and the team had a signing day ceremony to officially welcome Cash, and he’s in it for the long haul now after Team IMPACT’s two-year term ended.

“I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I had my first conversation with Coach Ballard and I remember thinking, this man is going to change my child's life,” Klinkenberg said.

She was starting to lose hope before that. Cash has an intellectual disability, limited leg function due to low muscle tone and occasional seizures and migraines.

“He was getting to the age and comprehension level where he could recognize he was different than everyone else. He felt lost in the world and that he didn't belong,” she said. “Meeting Coach Ballard and this group of men has completely restored my faith in humanity. That's his team. They gave him a sense of belonging.”

The women’s basketball team is also involved with Team IMPACT, and they adopted Mallorie, a sixth grader from Sabetha, Kansas, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2019.

“The very first day we went to the hospital for diabetes treatment, they told us straight up, ‘As soon as you think you have figured it out, something will change,’” said Michaela Schultejans, Mallorie’s mother.

That has indeed been the case and a source of frustration for Mallorie as she incorporates constant monitoring and regulating of blood sugar with her middle school life that includes playing basketball and volleyball.

“It's hard to put into words what Team IMPACT has done for her confidence,” Schultejans said. “She brought a friend to the last Washburn game we 
went to. You could just see she was so proud. She was beaming with, ‘Hey look at this. I'm associated with this.’

The women's basketball team and team impact player posing in the locker room

[Mallorie Schultejans (front row, middle, gray t-shirt) joins members of the women’s basketball team in the locker room. Photo submitted]

“She's like a little sister on the team. They don't see the disease. There's no handicap because of that. It means a lot as a parent to see your kiddo be welcomed.”

The impact goes beyond the children and families involved. Katie Glatczak, a senior on the women’s team who’s about to graduate with a bachelor of education, will teach physical education next fall. She will take many of her Team IMPACT lessons to the classroom and the teams she coaches.

“It's been so special to not only help Mallorie, but the way she's helped us has opened my eyes,” Glatczak said. “She shows us what we're playing for; it's more than just basketball.”

Like the men’s team, the women’s team had a signing ceremony, invites Mallorie into the locker room after games and invites her to practices and get-togethers throughout the year. Support and encouragement are just a phone call or text away.

“Just being able to see the smile on Mallorie’s face as soon as she sees us has been super sweet,” Glatczak said. “She’s building her confidence through her battle with Type 1 diabetes, and we’re hoping it helps her to know we always have her back.”

Men’s basketball senior Jalen Lewis feels just as lucky to be a part of Cash’s life. He graduates this spring with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

“A lot of people will look at the relationship Cash has with the team and think we're his role model or he looks up to us because we're basketball players and we're in college. I think I speak for everyone else on the team when I say we look up to him because of everything he's battled,” Lewis said. “He handles it like a warrior. I never see him without a smile on his face.”

Like college student-athletes, Cash and Mallorie are at a time in their life when the examples and experiences they have affect the kinds of adults they will become. Ballard’s leadership style stuck with Cash and helps him as he goes through his individualized education.

“Cash has found his own voice and is actually advocating for himself to where his teachers were teaching him things lower than what he should be doing, and he was like, ‘No. I need something harder. I need to be challenged,’” Klinkenberg said. “That's something Coach Ballard has always instilled in him: being challenged is good. If it's hard, that's good. Everything the team says to him, he takes to heart and he really practices it.”

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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