CMU football players, ailing child make Team IMPACT a hit
September 4, 2014 12:00 AM
Carnegie Mellon senior defensive lineman Dustin Schneider hands off to Brock Kitterman, 9, from Bethel Park, who has been paired with the CMU football team as part of Team IMPACT. Kitterman, who has bilateral retinoblastoma, a very rare eye cancer, will be the team’s captain this season.
Brock Kitterman, 9, from Bethel Park, has been paired with the CMU football team as part of Team IMPACT. Kitterman, who has Bilateral Retinoblastoma, a very rare eye cancer, will be the team's captain this season.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The 9-year-old in blue Chuck Taylor shoes, who wants to become a civil engineer if a career as a monster truck driver doesn't pan out, sits on a metal bench as a group of much larger men in shoulder pads and cleats walk by.
On their way to the field for practice, many Carnegie Mellon football players stop and say hello to the young man, giving him a high five or a fist bump.
Though Brock Kitterman wears a Tartans jersey just like all the other players, one altered to fit his 4-foot-6 frame, he's an unusual piece on a team playing a sport defined by physicality and brute strength.
But among this group and on this field, he has found something he never really had before -- a team to call his own.
Through the work of Team IMPACT, an organization matching college sports teams with kids battling chronic illnesses, Brock has gotten the chance to be a Carnegie Mellon team member and captain for this season.
"He might feel like he's blessed to have us, but, as a program, a team and a coaching staff, we're every bit as blessed to have him," Carnegie Mellon coach Rich Lackner said. "He's a great inspiration to all of us."
At just 12 weeks, Brock was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a very rare eye cancer. He underwent chemotherapy for six months to calcify the tumors. Though the tumors shrunk, allowing his retinas to reattach, the treatment significantly compromised his hearing, a small price to pay in a fight to stay alive.
Brock is considered legally blind, though corrective surgeries have allowed him to look directly at others while talking to them.
Even with those procedures, some problems remained. Largely deprived of his sight and hearing, Brock struggled socially, something his mother, Tammy, noticed and mentioned to a doctor at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
From that concern came a potential solution. The doctor suggested looking at Team IMPACT, which at the time was new to the area (the football teams at Robert Morris and California, Pa., also participate). Tammy signed up Brock for the program and, within a few weeks, he was matched with the Tartans.
"Football was never on our radar for Brock," Tammy said. "It just was not there. But he's having a blast."
In April, a ceremony was held for Brock, one in which he signed a letter of intent and was unanimously voted a team captain.
Even before preseason camp began, a bond started to develop between Brock and the players. A number of them emailed Brock over the summer to welcome him. Without any prodding from Lackner, a handful of players cheered Brock as he participated in a triathlon this summer in Upper St. Clair. Afterward, they took the self-professed roller-coaster enthusiast to Kennywood.
Brock's involvement with the team usually involves coming to practice at Gesling Stadium twice a week. While there, he attentively watches drills, helps give players water and ventures into the press box to see how things like the scoreboard work.
Though he has competed in several junior triathlons, Brock's condition has largely kept him from playing team sports. His tasks helping the Tartans provide him with a sense of belonging.
"It's been amazing," Brock said. "I'm not really used to being on a team. This is a big opportunity for me."
This weekend, Brock will travel to Cleveland to see the Tartans open their season against Case Western, the first time he will see a football game in person.
The night before the game, he will run a 5K in Akron and follow that Saturday morning with a triathlon at Cedar Point amusement park. It's an itinerary that's exhausting to read, let alone complete for a fourth-grader with Brock's condition.
The purpose of Team IMPACT is to enrich the lives of those involved, to give them hope and inspire them for greater things.
Usually, those results are meant for the children participating, but as Carnegie Mellon has learned with Brock, such feelings quickly become mutual.
"We all wake up every day with certain challenges that we deal with," Lackner said. "Butwhen you compare yourself and the challenges you wake up with every day, here's a young man who wakes up with a challenge in terms of his sight and hearing every day.
"He comes to practice with a smile on his face ready to high-five guys or fist-bump guys. You really admire how he approaches life and how he approaches every day."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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