Thursday, March 7, 2019

Team Grace

Team Grace: Because some of the best athletes know that it’s always about more than just a game.

Over the past five years, countless teams have shared in our Grace-Filled Journey and invited Grace to be part of their team. From local junior high and high school teams, club teams, college teams, and even one Major League Baseball pitcher, we feel pretty blessed for the opportunity to raise awareness through sports.

The Lady Hiltoppers gave Grace one of their state medals.
Holding her state medal.
 In the past week alone, four teams have found a way to recognize Grace through their efforts. And that’s just the past seven days.

It started at the Orlando International Airport. I happened to be wearing one of the t-shirts from the Grace-Filled volleyball tournament last year, and two girls in line asked me if I was a volleyball player. After Kyle stopped laughing hysterically at their question, we had the chance to tell them about Grace. Turns out, they were part of a women’s rowing team at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island and they had a spring camp down in Florida. They wanted to know more about our story, so we shared a Flat Gracie with them and told them about our blog. We even managed to take a photo in the airport before we went our separate ways.

Members of the Johnson and Wales University women's rowing team and Flat Gracie.
When we returned home, we took the girls to the IESA seventh grade volleyball sectionals in Nokomis. Kyle’s cousin is a member of the team, and we went to cheer them on. When the team won regionals the week before, they posed with Flat Gracie for their team trophy photo. It was a fun game to watch, and we even had a connection to the opposing team, who also wanted to get her photo taken with Flat Gracie. When it came time for the team photo with the sectional trophy, the Lincolnwood coach came over and asked if Grace could be in it, as part of the team.

The very next night, we had been invited to bring the girls to the Hillsboro High School girls basketball season banquet. Coach Tuetken had texted Kyle the week before that the senior girls wanted to give Grace one of their state medals. After the meal, the five senior players got up to present a medal to Grace (who slept through the whole thing!) Senior MVP Sammi Matoush thanked Grace for being a special part of the Lady Toppers’ journey and for allowing the team to be part of hers. This momma might have cried just a little bit. I’m so grateful for such amazing young people with big hearts and a beautiful little girl, who shows the world what it means to be courageous each and every day.

Grace with the sectional champion Lady Knights volleyball team!
And before the week was done, we received a message from Kenny Lauderdale, a men’s soccer player at Rockford University (and an alum of the Grace Cup), inquiring about a Flat Gracie to take back to school and take a photo with his team. They want to be part of the journey too.

And like I said before, that’s just one week. There have been so many special teams and great athletes over the past five years. And we have tried to take Grace to as many games as we can, so she can be a part of all these amazing events.

Grace hanging out with Mary, who played on the Hardin-Calhoun seventh grade team.
Earlier this year, we got a letter from one of our favorite Team Grace members. She talked about what she had learned being part of this Grace-Filled Journey and why she wears her gracelet all the time. Even though she can’t wear it when she plays, she wrote that she put it on her water bottle to help her remember that it was just a game, and that she’s blessed to have the opportunity to play, something that’s truly not guaranteed for everyone.

Lincolnwood Lady Knights eighth graders and Flat Gracie.
We know that it’s highly unlikely Grace will ever kick a soccer ball, score the winning basket or run the one-mile race, but in her short seven years, she has already taught so many of us about the things that really matter in life. It’s fun to play, and even more fun to win. But at the end of the day, it’s always still just a game. And the things that matter most are the players who take some of these lessons to heart.

No matter the mascot or the team colors, all the players on Team Grace will always be the biggest winners in our book!


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