Finding a Home at Wake Forest, Thanks to Team Impact

A columnist's teenage son is matched with his favorite college basketball team

Patrice Williams avatar

by Patrice Williams |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Main graphic for column titled

It’s no secret that my 13-year-old son, Jonah, who battles epidermolysis bullosa (EB), has become a huge sports fan.

His passion for sports began at age 6, when he could name every car — including the year, make, and model — he saw in a parking lot. That soon turned into a love of NASCAR racing, a passion that lasted several years. While he still follows NASCAR, he’s turned more toward baseball, football, and basketball as he’s gotten older,

Like his dad, Matt, Jonah can talk sports. He easily cites facts, figures, and statistics, and he’s all about his fantasy team. This actually works out pretty well for me: When Matt launches into a sports-related monologue, instead of smiling and nodding as my eyes glaze over, I can now just point him in Jonah’s direction. Those two speak the same language.

Recommended Reading
A group of people's hands on top of one another in a circle.

Celebs to Participate in Venture Into Cures for EB Awareness, Fundraising

This love of sports has manifested in different ways over the years, including a passion for the Atlanta Braves, which led to a trip to the World Series in 2021. It’s hard to love the Carolina Panthers right now, but we do anyway, despite ourselves. The same goes for the Charlotte Hornets. But one team we unconditionally love every year, despite the ups and downs and the joys and disappointments, is our beloved Wake Forest University men’s basketball team.

Matt grew up with season tickets to Wake Forest games, starting when he was just 3 years old. When Matt and I moved back to our hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, after college, season tickets were his first purchase.

Then Jonah was born, and things became so hard due to his EB, so I took several years off attending sporting events. But Matt continued going to each game with his dad. Then, Jonah became a season ticket holder at 4.

A 4-year-old boy dressed in the black and gold colors of the Wake Forest University men's basketball team cheers while sitting in the stands. He is wearing long, white, protective sleeves under his black T-shirt to protect his arms from wounds easily caused by epidermolysis bullosa, a rare disease. Several lesions can be seen on his face.

Jonah, then 4, cheers on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons as a first-time basketball season ticket holder nearly 10 years ago. (Photo by Patrice Williams)

Joining the team

I recently found out about an organization called Team Impact from a fellow special needs mom. According to its website, Team Impact “matches children facing serious illness and disability with college sports teams, creating a long-term, life-changing experience for everyone involved.”

We first connected with the organization about a year ago, and its staff has been working hard ever since to match Jonah with the Wake Forest men’s basketball team.

A few weeks ago, we finally got word: Jonah is now part of his beloved team.

Jonah will soon have an official signing day as he “commits” to Wake Forest basketball for the next two years. Although a match can look different for each child and team, Jonah’s experience will likely include being at some team practices; watching game film with the team; touring the campus, locker rooms, and facilities with some teammates; getting to hang out with the guys off campus; being part of a radio show; and more.

The players sent videos introducing themselves, and Jonah sent one in return. Even now, he’s begun hyping the team from inside the huddle before games.

About 10 men wearing gray T-shirts and white shorts with black bands at the bottom huddle in the lane near a basket on a basketball court. A few other males are around the men. In the background are the stands, with about five people in them.

Jonah hypes up members of the Wake Forest University men’s basketball team from inside a huddle of supertall people before a recent game. (Photo by Patrice Williams)

A boy walks off a basketball court stands just outside the lane on a basketball court. The boy is dressed in a black and gold Wake Forest University T-shirt, shorts, and orange sneakers. He is wearing white protective bandages or sleeves on his arms and legs. A man with a cameraman is behind him, and another man in a gray sweatshirt and black pants is on the court. A few people are in the stands.

Jonah leaves the court after energizing the team. (Photo by Patrice Williams)

Recognition and grace

On opening night, Jonah was standing in line by the bleachers to high-five the players as they entered the arena. One team member, who was injured and unable to play that night, was at the back of the line. Recognizing Jonah from his video, the player approached him with a huge smile, gave him a high-five, and said, “Oh, it’s you! How are you? It’s so good to see you! I’m sorry I’m not playing tonight. Please forgive me.” He even asked if Jonah was staying after the game.

I watched quietly from a few rows up. This elite college athlete was starstruck by my son. My son, who desperately wants to play the game, but can’t. Who longs to be part of the sports world and is doing everything he can to find his place there even if his body won’t allow him to physically participate. Who wants nothing more than to be one of the guys. And this college player made him feel wanted, loved, and part of the team. (I wanted to hug that player. And his mom, wherever she was.)

My heart swelled, and my eyes filled with tears. What is this life? Who are all of these amazing people that continue to bless my boy? What have we done to deserve this kind of love?

I don’t know. Nothing.

This is grace. This is the goodness of humanity. I’m overwhelmed.

In a world that can be so ugly, I’m thankful for these opportunities to experience so much good. And I can’t wait for this basketball season. I promise my eyes won’t glaze over, not even once. It’s going to be an amazing ride. An amazingly undeserved ride. We can’t wait.

And of course, Go Deacs!

A boy sits next to a man and in front of about four others. They're in stands. The numbers 1989 are pasted behind them.

Jonah enjoys a recent basketball game with his dad, right, and other family members.  (Photo by Patrice Williams)

Note: Epidermolysis Bullosa News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Epidermolysis Bullosa News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to epidermolysis bullosa.


Rachel Karbarski avatar

Rachel Karbarski

I've followed your story since Jonah was born. Every now and then I check in to see how he is. It's good to know he is doing well and inspiring others!


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.