Embracing Emmett: The story behind Team EZ

Embracing Emmett: The story behind Team EZ

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Embracing Emmett: The story behind Team EZ

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, is introduced before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, is introduced before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

At first glance, you may not notice him. Just another 5-year-old sitting on his dad’s lap watching a JV basketball game, wearing shorts and a Harrisburg Tigers shirt. His quiet, raspy voice occasionally yells out “Come on!” or “Get the ball!”

Then the Harrisburg High School varsity team comes out the locker room and the boy excitedly hops off his father’s lap and joins the team, receiving high fives as he grabs a ball and begins to play.

Your first thought might be that he’s related to one of the players. But curiosity takes over, so you keep watching. He goes over by the cheerleaders, who immediately stop what they are doing to give out hugs and more high fives. Then he makes his way over to the bench and promptly sits down next to the coach, who strikes up a conversation all the while making his arms into a hoop while the kid shoots baskets.

By this time, you know this little boy is more than just a fan or a family member. But it isn’t until player introductions that you realize you’re watching something special as he’s introduced as the team captain and runs through the gauntlet of teammates, handing out special handshakes and standing in the center of the pregame huddle.

His name is Emmett Zorr and he has taken the Harrisburg community by storm.

The team’s shirts are emblazoned with “TEAM EZ” on the back. The school website has the basketball team photo with Emmett and his brother Ace front and center, along with a link to his GoFundMe Page prominently placed.

He’s pretty much the most popular guy in the arena, and it’s easy to see why.

Emmett chats with Harrisburg coach Scott Langerock.

Emmett chats with Harrisburg coach Scott Langerock.

Harrisburg basketball team photo featuring Emmett and brother Ace

TOUGH BATTLE BEGINS

Emmett is currently battling Rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer of the tissue. It’s just one in a long line of battles he has endured in his short time.

Before we met Emmett, his mother, Tina Woltman sent us what she called a “brief history” of her son. It was just over three pages long, single spaced and over 2,000 words.

Emmett’s issues began when he was born at only 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces. He spent months in the NICU, constantly hooked up to monitors and machines as his body developed. He was sent home once, only to return a week later.

After several tests it was revealed that his lungs were not able to give him the proper amount of oxygen needed. It was decided that in order to get them back up to par, Emmett needed to be put into a coma and intubated. Just over two weeks later he was brought out but had to spend another 10 days in the hospital before he was able to go home.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, Harrisburg boys basketball players before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, Harrisburg boys basketball players before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett seemed to stabilize, but he was required to be on oxygen for the first two and a half years of his life before he could function without the need an oxygen cannula.

It seemed like things were beginning to look up. Periodic doctor visits were required, but no major hiccups.

A year later, Emmett developed a lump under his right eye. A biopsy revealed that he had cancer. Just over a week later, chemotherapy began. A port-a-cath was inserted for the treatments. To help Emmett understand, they named the port Toodles. Being a big Mickey Mouse fan and avid Mickey Mouse Clubhouse viewer, naming the port Toodles taught Emmett that the port was there to help him, just like the character Toodles does when Mickey and his friends need help on the show.

“We needed something for him to understand why and what was going on,” said Woltman.

Toodles from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

After several more rounds of chemo, Emmett began radiation treatments. A mold was made of his body since during radiation treatments, the patient must remain still. Once a few months had passed, Emmett was getting better and the tumor shrunk considerably. Toodles was removed and his hair began to grow back.

Last June, however, the tumor returned to Emmett’s cheek. He was put back on chemotherapy, traveling to see doctors in Sioux Falls and Chicago. The tumor shrank, but now doctors had to go in and remove it, along with reconstructing the cheek. It was possible that Emmett could lose his eye in the process.

The doctors were able to save Emmett’s eye, but the cancer had attacked his cheek, so bone was taken from his skull along with tissue from his left leg to build up the cheek, replace skin and rebuild the pallet of his mouth. The entire process took 14 hours.

PART OF THE TEAM

Despite all that he has been through, Emmett is pretty much your typical 5-year-old. At a recent game he was constantly active, whether dribbling and shooting on the side of the court during timeouts, running around after the game or dancing in the stands after the Tigers’ victory. That’s pretty much Emmett, according to his mother.

“He always wants to be doing something,” said Tina. “His energy level actually keeps him going. That’s what’s kept him going since day one.”

The idea to make Emmett part of the team came from conversations between Harrisburg basketball coach Scott Langerock and Ace, a junior forward on the team.

“We just talked about it and I said, ‘Hey, is there anything we can do?’ and Ace told me what was going on,” said Langerock. “The more he got comfortable talking about it, the more things kind of evolved.”

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, Harrisburg boys basketball players before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, Harrisburg boys basketball players before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

And Team EZ was born.

Emmett’s involvement with the team grew as the season went on. At first he was shy, but the more he interacted with the team, the more his role expanded, much like any player excelling at their position.

“At first everyone was a little hesitant and Emmett was hesitant too because he’s just a little guy and here are all these big basketball players,” said Langerock. “The only one he really knew was Ace. But now when you watch and observe the whole interaction … our guys, they just love him.”

Langerock is especially proud of his players and how they embraced the situation.

“Watching these guys become men and compassionate people with big hearts and willing to grow the relationship with somebody that’s going through hard times on a daily basis, that says a lot about their character,” he said. “When you see that whole thing develop with your players and other people and the ability to develop those relationships, it’s very heartwarming.”

A big piece of this has been Ace, who recently moved back to South Dakota after living with his mother in Florida. The 6-foot-5 starter has been everything to his little brother, taking on the role without thinking twice, putting Emmett before himself many times.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” says his father, Chad Zorr. “I mean, words can’t explain it. Ace was 11 or 12 when Emmett came into this world and Ace never got to see him, hold him, meet him or anything cause he was in NICU. It’s overwhelming. The bond that those two have through life, basketball, sports, all that stuff is just amazing.”

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, waits to be introduced before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, waits to be introduced before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

But for Ace, the choice of being such a rock for Emmett was easy.

“He’s my little brother. I love him. I would do anything for him,” he said.

ENJOYING THE RIDE

As the team and Emmett bonded, so did the community, rallying around Emmett and his family. A GoFundMe Page was started and raised more than $1,600 the first month. When Emmett was in Chicago, a burger feed was organized to help the family with medical costs.

“The community is amazing,” Woltman said. “The whole basketball program is amazing. They took him in, not knowing who he was, what was going on. There’s no way we could ever pay them back for everything they’ve done. They have literally taken us all in, not just Emmett and Ace, but all of us.”

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, watches a television news story about him while being held by his mom Tina Woltman as it's played on the big screen during halftime of a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, watches a television news story about him while being held by his mom Tina Woltman as it’s played on the big screen during halftime of a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Harrisburg’s season got off to rough start, with the Tigers losing their first six games and sitting at 3-10 in early February. But something happened and they reeled off six straight wins, including an overtime victory in Pierre. It was a game Emmett couldn’t travel to because he had chemo treatments that day, but Tina was able to find the game being streamed online.

With the Tigers down at halftime, Emmett watched his team come back for a 71-68 win. Following a loss to Brookings, the Tigers defeated Watertown to set up a play-in game against Yankton. Harrisburg won with Emmett in attendance, 53-48, moving the Tigers into a game against the top seed in their district, Brandon Valley. The Tigers upset the Lynx 53-48 to move on to the finals against Lincoln. Though they fell 45-41, Harrisburg will have one more crack at a state tournament berth. The Tigers will face Roosevelt in Region 2AA on Tuesday.

With the support of their honorary captain, the underdogs are making a memorable run.

Emmett will continue to have treatments until April, when he will be evaluated again. The date is in the back of his parents’ minds, but right now the family is enjoying March Madness and the magical ride that a courageous 5-year-old helped make possible.

Follow Christopher Dexter on Twitter at @cdexter99.

Emmett Zorr’s GoFundMe Page

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, looks on while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr's lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, looks on while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr’s lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, roughhouses with Harrisburg's Hunter Headlee (12) before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, roughhouses with Harrisburg’s Hunter Headlee (12) before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, high fives the team as they take the court during halftime Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, high fives the team as they take the court during halftime Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, cheers on his team while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr's lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, cheers on his team while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr’s lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, stands for the "National Anthem" before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, stands for the "National Anthem" before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, looks on as the Harrisburg boys warm up before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, looks on as the Harrisburg boys warm up before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, sits with Harrisburg head boys basketball coach Scott Langerock before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, sits with Harrisburg head boys basketball coach Scott Langerock before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, plays before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, plays before a game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, holds a basketball while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr's lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday's game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, holds a basketball while sitting on his dad, Chad Zorr’s lap during a boys basketball game against Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face. The Harrisburg boys won Tuesday’s game against Watertown 42-35.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, gets a high five from Harrisburg's Nick Hoyt (24) after their 42-35 win over Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, gets a high five from Harrisburg’s Nick Hoyt (24) after their 42-35 win over Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, plays with Harrisburg's Justis Clayton (22) after their 42-35 win over Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn't the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face.

Emmett Zorr, 5, the honorary team captain of the Harrisburg boys basketball team, plays with Harrisburg’s Justis Clayton (22) after their 42-35 win over Watertown Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, S.D. Late last year, Emmett had a tumor removed from his face, and is currently going through chemotherapy. This wasn’t the first time Zorr has been through this. When Emmett was 3-years-old he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a tumor was found on his face.

Emmett resting after surgery.

Emmett resting after surgery.

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