The Ohio Wesleyan University men’s lacrosse program added an important piece to the puzzle on Tuesday by way of a special recruit. Twelve-year-old Gabriel Eberhard, of Marengo, signed his letter of intent to officially become a Battling Bishop in a ceremony that included family and current players and coaches of the OWU lacrosse team.
Eberhard, who was diagnosed with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita at birth in 2006, was presented with his own jersey and helmet after a ceremony in which he talked about his new team and fielded questions from the crowd.
“I’m really happy to join this team,” Eberhard said during the press conference. “I really think I’ll be a great fit, and I know that we’ll all develop great friendships as a team and personally. I think that I can help you, and I know that you guys can help me.”
Eberhard added he felt the team would a great one moving forward, which drew loud applause from all in attendance. However, the loudest applause came when Eberhard was asked by a teammate what he was most looking forward to as a member of the team.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting all of you and developing friendships,” he said. “Also, either this year or next year, when I’m on the team, we’re going to win the national championship.”
Eberhard went on to say of his favorite part of being a Battling Bishop, “The spirit, a lot of great energy and great friendship … Being a Battling Bishop is just a lot of what I need right now.”
Eberhard’s father, Ryan, said he has already seen new energy and fire in his son’s spirit since joining the team, and he expressed thanks to the program for welcoming his son to the team.
“You guys are something special,” he said in addressing his son’s new teammates and coaches.
Head Coach Mike Plantholt said that when the team was looking for someone to add to the program, it was important to find someone who was a true fit for the team. He recalled an email from Eberhard’s mother, Mary Beth, in which she described her son as an “amazing young man” with a “huge personality, a great laugh, a sense of humor that never stops, and a really joyful spirit.”
The email went on to say Eberhard is self-determined, thrives in adversity, and always perseveres, even when the odds are against him. The email closed by stating that Eberhard has been dedicated and responsible throughout all his surgeries, which has exceeded 30, and he understands that responsibility is the key to his success.
Plantholt said he was sold on Eberhard being the perfect fit for the OWU men’s lacrosse team from the moment he read the email.
“We have members of our team that help us on the field, off the field, in the locker room, and in the classroom,” he said. “Gabe is absolutely no different than any other member of our team.”
When asked what will be asked of Eberhard moving forward, Plantholt continued to stress that what will be asked of Eberhard will be no different from anyone else in the program.
“When we’re on the sidelines, we expect a lot out of the guys on our bench,” he said. “To echo the call, to support their teammates, to celebrate every goal, and to pick up their teammates when adversity hits. We expect those same things from him.”
Senior and team captain Max Tennant called the addition of Eberhard a “huge honor,” and he said that Eberhard has brought a positive attitude that has been infectious to everyone in the program.
Asked about the support system Eberhard has in his new teammates and coaches, Tennant said, “The word ‘family’ is used a lot in a lot of college aspects, especially in athletics. But I think this team truly is a family, and Gabe is the newest member … We’re all there for each other. Whatever he needs, we’re there for him. And whatever we need, I hope he’s there for us.”
Eberhard joining the OWU lacrosse team was made possible by Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit headquartered in Boston. Team IMPACT brings children facing serious or chronic illnesses together with college athletic programs. Through the pairings, Team IMPACT hopes to build the child’s support system while teaching student-athletes about true life lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom.
Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched more than 1,700 children with more than 500 colleges and universities across 49 states. For more information on the program, visit www.goteamimpact.org for more information.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.