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Little Eagle, Big Heart

JB Harvey's illness precludes playing sports, but he's a special part of the BC football team

10/04/12
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Five-year-old JB Harvey has been drafted as an honorary member of the Boston College football team.

By Michael Maloney | Special to The Chronicle

Published: Oct. 4, 2012

Standing in front of the entire Boston College football team, five-year-old JB Harvey clutches at his mother’s side, smiling but startled by the raucous clapping and cheering from college students five times his size.

Just seconds before, BC Assistant Coach Mike Siravo had announced to the team that Boston College had drafted JB as an honorary and permanent team member.  It’s the first team that JB has joined, and an experience he will not soon forget.

JB has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the only fatal form of muscular dystrophy, and at age five is already feeling the debilitating effects of this neurodegenerative disease. Although he’s a huge sports fan, and especially loves football, playing this or most any other sport is not an option.

“It may seem insignificant to some, but that fact that JB could not participate in sports was heartbreaking for me,” explains his mother Beth, a former Division I lacrosse player at Holy Cross, “Sports played a huge role in my life, and I thought JB would never feel part of a team, and would not learn the life lessons that only team sports can provide.”

But Boston College and the Harveys’ foundation “JB’s Keys to DMD” joined with Team Impact, an organization that pairs children who have life-threatening illnesses with collegiate sports teams, and made JB’s dreams of participating in sports a reality. 

JB is now invited on the field during BC games and in the locker room — where he has his own locker, with a nameplate, and filled with Under Armour gear — throughout the season. He calls the coaching staff his coaches, and the players his teammates, and even communicates with some via text message and Facebook. He is a member of the team in every sense of the word, and his presence hasn’t gone unnoticed.

During the project’s early stages, the Athletic Department sought to create a leadership team for JB, a small group of players who would forge a more personal bond with him.  Having a direct and personal connection, administrators said, would help him become more comfortable with the 100-plus-member team and staff.

“When we asked the guys originally who might be interested in the leadership team, the response was amazing,” explained Student Athlete Development Program Administrator Allison Quandt. “We had about 65 players who volunteered right off the bat.”

The leadership group was eventually narrowed down to two players from each class, and now they get together with JB for events that are smaller scaled and less overwhelming, such as pizza parties or readings of JB’s favorite night-time story - the BC football media guide.

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Head Coach Frank Spaziani talks with JB during a recent practice.

Four weeks into the regular season, JB is already becoming more comfortable with his new teammates. The day before the Eagles were set to play Maine, he was on the field for walkthroughs. JB and his sister, Caroline, huddled with the team and even got in line for some dynamic stretching.  The players all interact with their newest rookie, and Head Coach Frank Spaziani even goes out of his way to come over and thank JB for coming to practice.

On the day of his first game, JB wore his own personal credentials (or “presidentials” as he calls them) and stood in the tunnel as the players exited the field, each one rewarding JB’s extended arm with a big high-five.

“It’s really just been amazing how welcomed we have felt from day one,” Beth said of the experience. “BC is a big Division I program and the fact that they have taken the time to let us in has been great.”

While JB is still very young and quiet around the cameras, his mother says the story is quite different when they leave the field.  After his first game on the team, Beth drove JB back to Cape Cod to enjoy one of the final weekends of summer. She couldn’t get in a word during the one-hour ride in between JB’s unremitting play-by-play description of every single detail that happened throughout his exciting day.

About halfway home, Beth said, they heard an advertisement on the radio for BC football tickets.

JB stopped talking for a second, popped up in his seat and excitedly yelled out, “Mom, That’s my team! I’m a BC Eagle!”

For more information about JB and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, see http://www.JBskeys.org and the informational video below.