A 'perfect' outlet for Williams College team's Top Recruit

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Five days after Arianna Mazza was born, she had heart surgery. Born with a heart condition, she has been through numerous surgeries and procedures in her five years.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the young Adams resident had a different kind of appointment to keep.

The Williams College women's basketball team officially drafted Arianna as the Top Recruit during a ceremony, making her a full-fledged member. As such, she is welcome to participate in practices, sit on the bench during games and take part in any of the other activities, like lunches and award banquets.

During the signing ceremony, attended by all the team's players and many of Arianna's family, Williams College women's basketball coach Pat Manning welcomed the youngest player to the team.

"I know we're all excited, not just for today, but for the next two years," Manning said. "We look forward, Arianna, to getting to know you and your family."

Arianna is one of hundreds of children facing chronic or serious health conditions who have been recruited by college teams through the Team IMPACT program.

Each recruit stays with the team for two years, then becomes a mentor for new young recruits. Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched almost 1,600 children with more than 500 colleges and universities in 48 states, reaching over 50,000 participating student-athletes.

According to information provided by the program, "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."

A little more than a year ago, Arianna received a pacemaker, which has helped her quite a bit, said her mom, Nichole Christman.

After Arianna's birth in 2012, her early childhood was a blur of trips to Berkshire Medical Center, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and other specialists in Boston for examinations, tests, procedures and surgeries, Christman said.

Through it all, as scared as her mom was, she never let it show in front of Arianna.

"I had to be strong on the outside, even though I really feel like breaking down," Christman said. "Never in front of Ari. I want her to be strong, even though it's a scary thing to be in the hospital."

Arianna started kindergarten this year, which was a whole different kind of scary for mother and daughter, but it went well.

Now, when Arianna is feeling well, she is not exactly subdued.

"She's always running around, and she's very loud," Christman said, even though Arianna was having a bout of shyness during the signing.

For the ceremony, the entire team was on hand, showing support and friendship to the little girl. In fact, Arianna acted like she already knew the players quite well, and afterward she went off with them for some team bonding time.

"This is going to be really big for her," Christman said. "She wants to play sports really bad, but her cardiologist said it would not be advisable. So, this is perfect."

When mom broke the idea to Arianna, she was excited about it.

"Oh, she was all for it," Christman said. "And basketball was really exciting for her."

According to Kris Herman, Williams College softball coach and co-founder of the Team IMPACT program in 2011, the program is so successful that "many teams have been waiting for years to have a Top Recruit draft like Arianna. The impact on student-athletes has been life-changing for some of them."

For more information, visit goteamimpact.org.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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