BRISTOL, Tenn. - The King University men's basketball team held a signing this past weekend for a new member of the team, but this wasn't just any new addition to the team. Sage Crews of Abingdon, Virginia was welcomed with open arms by the King men's basketball team and athletic staff, after signing with the team through Team IMPACT.
Team IMPACT is a national non-profit that connects children living with serious and chronic illnesses to college athletic teams all across the country. Through the program, a child battling illness becomes an official member of the athletic team, where they get to attend games, practices, dinners, and other team events. They become part of the team, and can create life-long friendships and connections with players, coaches, and fans.
Sage was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three, which is a condition that can cause muscle weakness or muscle loss. But the condition does not stop Sage from pursuing his passion for sports, and this past weekend, his passion for the game and his vibrant personality allowed him to become an official member of the King men's basketball team.
"He will be part of a team and it's going to be great for his confidence. They've been great role models for him and I think he has been good for the team too," Ann Crews, mother of Sage, said. "It's been hard for him to participate in some sports, but I think being a part of a team will be great."
The experience has not only been enjoyable for Sage and his family, but the experience has been life-changing for the team.
"It's really been a dream come true because for the longest time I've wanted to be able to impact other people through basketball. To be able to meet a kid as special as Sage and to form the friendship that we have has really meant a lot to me," King forward Brandon Lamberth said. "Every time he comes out to our practice or a game, I make sure I'm one of the first people to go give him a high-five or hug.
"Earlier in the season, I missed a couple of games and I got to sit with him on the bench. That was a pretty fun experience because we got to celebrate the team and get closer. I'm looking forward to watching him grow up and watch him fall in love with the game. I want to see him engage with the student body more at games. I'd like for them to be able to meet him and have cheers to celebrate with him. Anything that is going to be building him up, that's what I want to see."
When asked about the program and what he likes about the team, Sage simply said "My favorite one is Brandon. He helps me."
"When he walked into the room at practice this morning, he walked on the court and we were all like SAGE, SAGE! He is great energy to have around and he's a blessing from above to have around because it makes us better as a team and it brings us all together, King guard James Brown said. "We are super happy that he can be a part of this team."
When James and Sage reflect on their time together at Camp, Sage giggles and says "Yeah, I had a lot of fun. I was beating him up and stuff."
"I think it's great. He is like a little brother to us and another addition to our team. It's a great impact on his life and our life, so we both get the best out of it. It impacted me to be a better leader, a better role model, understanding that I do have other people watching, so I have to be cautious of that, King guard Josh Releford said. "As for the team, I think it's the same for them. They have to understand that we are leaders and role models at the same time, and everybody is looking at us."
George Pitts, who is in his 14th season as head coach for the Tornado, quickly took to the idea of Team IMPACT and has witnessed the impact that Sage has had on the team and coaching staff.
"This summer, I was at Yellowstone with my wife and David Hicks, the King director of athletics, contacted me and wanted to know if we would have any interest in being a part of Team IMPACT. He gave me a description of it and I told him we would like to be involved. When I got back, I followed up, did some research, saw some footage of a couple college teams that had a team impact player, and you could tell what it meant to the kid and to the team. We went through some hoops, got everything done we needed to get done, and we were able to get Sage," coach Pitts said.
"Back in the fall, we went on a retreat to Unicoi, and that's when we first got to meet Sage and his parents. It was like the team had known him forever, as they adapted to him so quickly and since then, he has been to practices, been to games, and been with us to eat. It has been super for Sage and his family, but it has been as much of a blessing to our team or more. It's great and I'm proud that our guys can be a part of it."
The signing ensures that through the Project Impact program, Crews will now be a member of the team for at least two years. But Sage will most likely be a Tornado for life and will continue to inspire others in the community.
"It means a lot. Everybody cares so much for him. He likes to hang out in the locker room, which I think is his favorite part. It means a lot to have him in a team sport, because he wouldn't normally be able to participate," Scott Crews, father of Sage, said. "He loves hanging out with all the people. He gets excited when you tell him that we are going to King University. He shouts "we're going to a basketball game!" He likes sports, and he is really loving basketball and this King Tornado team."