Ten-year-old Mikaylah Poole signed a National Letter of Intent to join the women’s basketball program Friday as part of a program aimed at fostering connections between children who face medical challenges and college teams.
Poole and her family connected with Team Impact, an organization that helps children “gain support as they face medical challenges” by pairing them with a college athletic program. Junior guard Lexus Levy said Poole, who experiences Crohn’s disease, and her new teammates instantly bonded, holding dance battles and creating Tik Tok videos to support her on and off the court.
“We’ve only hung out about two to three times, but she’s like a little sister to me already,” Levy said. “I think she looks up to everybody on this team and has become part of the family.”
Levy, along with redshirt junior forward Sarah Overcash, junior forward Neila Luma, freshman forward Faith Blethen and sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah comprised the leadership group that welcomed Poole to the team. The five players showed her the locker room, where a dance battle ensued.
“She loves to dance, so we had music playing in the locker room,” assistant coach Ganiyat Adeduntan said. “We probably spent 15, 20 minutes just hanging out, dancing – she was getting a chance to spend some time with them.”
Adeduntan said she first heard about Team Impact when she worked in Boston, where the company is headquartered. She added that as the community service liaison for the team at GW, she wanted to involve women’s basketball in the organization.
“When I got here, I was like, ‘This is going to be a great experience for our players and for our coaching staff too,’” Adeduntan said. “So I reached out to them and it’s been two years in waiting.”
Team Impact works to pair children with athletic programs near them, developing an increased support system for children with chronic illnesses and their families and a widened world view for the student-athletes and coaches and a lasting friendship between both parties.
“Our goal is to help these children and their families experience life beyond illness by increasing a sense of normalcy, optimism, confidence and belonging, combined with the thrill of college sports,” the organization’s website states.
Adeduntan added that the team spent two years waiting to be paired with a child because the program did not have a large reach in D.C. She said Team Impact came to D.C. to alert hospital personnel, like nurses and doctors, about the program to spread the message to patients.
In her press conference, Poole recalled one of her favorite memories with the team, when members of the leadership team, Adeduntan and director of basketball operations Christina Richardson surprised her with a visit to the hospital.
Adeduntan added that Poole exemplifies strength and resilience during their visit and throughout her life, which gives the team a strong role model to mimic in their own lives and on the court.
“When they’re facing things on the court, they’re able to refer back to, ‘Hey, Mikaylah knows how to push through every single day and she’s going strong,’” Adeduntan said.
Poole came to a few of the team’s practices and games, and she watches the team play when it travels on the road, Ganiyat said. She added that as Poole and players become more comfortable with each other, the leadership group will plan separate events and activities with her.
“Whenever we’re doing something with the team, I’ll make sure that Mikaylah’s involved,” Adeduntan said.
In the press conference, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said the team values players and recruits who display perseverance, determination and a great spirit – three qualities she said Poole exudes.
She added that Poole’s support system doesn’t stop with the women’s basketball program but extends throughout the athletic department. Poole is welcome to attend volleyball and women’s rowing teams to get connected with other squads, she said.
“We’re proud to have you here to be a part of us and we look forward to our journey together and supporting each other through whatever battles we go through,” Rizzotti said.
When the press conference ended, Poole, her sister, Levy and Mokwuah propped up a phone and started making Tik Toks.
Poole’s mom, Kim, said the experience with Team Impact and the women’s basketball program has been “hands-down awesome.”
“Mikaylah’s journey has been a tough one at start, but since connecting with Team Impact and, again, the class act organization here at GW with the women’s basketball organization and just seeing the University itself, has really strengthened Mikaylah, the family and made the whole process just easier,” she said.