The University of Alabama men’s tennis team added the least qualified player in its history on Thursday and yet none may have been more celebrated.
As reported by the Tuscaloosa News’ TideSports.com, the Alabama tennis squad held an official signing ceremony for 11-year-old Caleb Holcomb, a local fourth grader at Englewood Elementary. The celebration was set up by the nonprofit Team IMPACT, which organizes the incorporation of children with illnesses into athletic teams to boost their spirits and goodwill.
Holcomb suffers from a condition called hypogammaglobulinemia, which prevents his auto-immune system from producing enough antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses. It leaves him at constant risk of becoming sick and keeps him from being active in the sports he loves to watch on television.
When the Alabama program was contacted about adding Holcomb, agreeing to do so was a fait accompli.
“It’s about tennis, but it’s not about tennis. It’s about life,” Alabama tennis coach George Husack told TideSports.com. “We don’t have to go to a hospital every four weeks for a ton of shots just to stay alive. A missed shot, a sore ankle, a lost match or a missed recruit, it’s not that big in the scheme of things.”
While Holcomb has never been able to play tennis himself, he became a fan because of his older brother, who is an avid player. And after the family connected with Team IMPACT, the path to the Crimson Tide became clear.
For an Alabama squad days away from the NCAA Tournament, taking time out to celebrate a young sick fan with a pizza party and tennis gifts was no small matter. Still, it was one that clearly had an impact on the players.
“I didn’t know his story,” Edson Ortiz, a sophomore UA tennis player from Mexico, told TideSports.com. “I didn’t know who he was. Then I heard his story and all he’s been through, it’s humbling to have him around and see how lucky we are.
“This makes an impact on us and at the same time we’re having an impact on him.”