Keisha Anderson never thought she’d see her son wear a jersey and become part of a team.
That all changed Monday night when her 6-year-old, Bryson Stephens, signed with Mercer University’s men’s lacrosse team. He’ll be sporting jersey no. 39 on the sidelines at future games and practices.
“I never thought he’d be able to do anything like this at all,” Anderson, 26, said of her son, who has had 13 surgeries since 2014. “I never thought that was possible for him.”
The 6-year-old from Griffin “basically has all the characteristics that we look for in the guys that we bring into our program,” the squad’s head coach Kyle Hannan said. “He’s energetic … He has a great spirit about him. Whatever he faces, it’s with a positive attitude. Basically, the way we look at it, he’s an impact player.”
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Though Bryson appears healthy, he is diagnosed with kidney disease, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a sensory processing disorder. Anderson said her son will never be able to play contact sports.
His signing at the Drake Field House was possible because of Team IMPACT, a nonprofit group that pairs kids with life-threatening or chronic medical conditions with college sports teams close to home.
Senior lacrosse player Colin Massa, 22, was watching a halftime feature about the nonprofit in May when the University of Maryland played in a national championship. Massa said he was inspired by the program’s outreach to the kids.
“Just being around the team, interacting, it’s just a cool experience to kind of take him away from all the stuff that he has to go through,” Massa said. “While we’re doing a good service to Bryson, we’re going to learn as much if not more from him and seeing how resilient he is.”
Massa’s last season as a Mercer lacrosse player will start in February. While it’s important to leave an impact on the field, Massa said. “I can’t think of a better legacy to leave. … I’m sure Bryson will stay in contact with the team for a long time.”
On the way to the campus from Griffin, Anderson said she’d told her fiancee she was nervous about Bryson having “a meltdown,” but the boy was far too enthralled by his new teammates, jersey and a crosse specially made for him.
“It’s surreal for us,” said Anderson’s fiancee, 32-year-old Kevin Stauff. “It’s good to see him get to be part of a team, something we didn’t know whether or not he was going to get to experience. … He gets to feel that camaraderie and that brotherhood and that fraternity that goes into a team.”