Meet the newest member of the Williams College lacrosse team: 6-year-old Parker Langenback

Team Impact connects first-grader living with spina bifida with Williams lacrosse squad

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PHOTO GALLERY | Parker Langenback, 6, drafted by Williams College lacrosse team

WILLIAMSTOWN — A couple of weeks ago, Parker Langenback had no clue what the game of lacrosse was all about, and Kevin Stump, a first-year member of the Williams College Men's Lacrosse Team had no clue about how the birth defect spinal bifida could affect a person's life.

But on Tuesday evening, the Langenback family and the lacrosse team signed on for a two-year commitment to learn about and support one another, through a social sports initiative called Team Impact.

Now 6 years old, but turning 7 at the end of the month, Parker is a first-grader at Williamstown Elementary School, located about a mile from where the lacrosse team practices at Farley-Lamb Field. He lives in town with his parents, Melissa and Rob Langenback, and his 3-year-old brother, Sawyer.

The Langenbacks first learned about their first son's diagnosis at 18 weeks gestation. "Those first couple of weeks were the toughest. We didn't know what spina bifida was, even though it's the most common birth defect," Melissa said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1,500 babies are born each year with some form of this birth defect, which prevents a baby's backbone from fully developing. Each person experiences spina bifida differently.

Parker experiences the most severe form known as "myelomeningocele," which included a buildup of fluid around his brain and a hole in his back where his spine wasn't fully formed. It has also caused some lower body paralysis because of exposed nerves. He had two corrective surgeries after birth, and has since had eight others to help stabilize his back, including a spinal fusion surgery at age 3 to place rods in his spine. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Human Services, the total lifetime cost of care for a child born with spina bifida is estimated to be about $560,000.

While Parker's condition has left him "100 percent wheelchair bound," according to his mother, it's not left him without the gusto of being an active and curious 6-year-old boy.

Which is why, when the lacrosse team and Team Impact, a Boston-based inter-collegiate nonprofit, approached the family about forming a social support network by having the local team "draft" Parker, the family felt it would be a good fit. It's the sixth time a Williams team has formed such a partnership with disabled kids and families.

"The way I see it, if you can take away from his attitude something positive and let that be an inspiration to you, so be it, but I don't think he's going around thinking that," Melissa said. Instead, she said the family sees this as an opportunity for Parker to have a new social outlet. "It may not work for every child, but Parker's an easy-going, friendly kind of guy who loves to be with people. He's so outgoing and wants to talk with everyone."

On Tuesday evening, Parker rolled up to his drafting ceremony in the Williams College Reilly Room in his green chrome wheelchair with flashing lights with an appropriately sized white and neon yellow lacrosse stick strapped to the back of it. The stick was a gift from a previous visit, which entailed a field and locker room tour with some teammates and Parker's favorite lunch, a grilled cheese sandwich.

After team representative Kevin Stump offered some kind words of inspiration for Parker and how he felt Parker and his family would inspire the team, Head Coach George McCormack said that in the two weeks he's seen Parker begin to practice throwing a lacrosse ball and learn about the sport, the team decided that kind of dedication, grit, resilience and attitude, earned him a spot on the team and a No. 41 jersey, if the boy agreed.

"Yes," Parker said, while also expressing some hesitation about his ability. "I thought maybe they'd kick me off of the team because I only have one move," Parker said, demonstrating an overhand throwing motion with his stick. "I can't catch," he said.

After making a joke about his team having some issues catching too, McCormack assured the boy and said, "Don't worry. Now you have 40 guys to work with you."


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