It’s not only on the court that the Rider men’s basketball team can rally. For the past three years, the team has also rallied around 8-year-old Liam Knobl of Bristol Township, Pa., supporting him as he battles an immune disorder that leaves him prone to illness.
The youngster was made an official member of the men’s basketball team in 2016 through his association with Team Impact, a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams.
Rider has participated in the program since the baseball team first hosted a child eight years ago. Since then, the University’s swimming and diving, softball, and women’s basketball teams have also been involved.
As part of his experience, Liam gets to hang with the team — going to practices, attending home games (where he sits on the bench during warm-ups) and being announced along with the other players during Rider’s annual MAACness event in October to celebrate the start of basketball season.
“I hear him yelling when I am on the court, so I know he is really involved,” says Anthony Durham ’18, who is now studying athletic leadership as a graduate student at Rider.
Liam’s courage in the face of his illness inspired Durham, along with other athletes and administrators, to participate in the Bronc Platelet Challenge, a community service program run by the Athletic Department that encourages blood and platelet donations.
After spending the first two years of his life in and out of the hospital with various illnesses, from ear infections to pneumonia, Liam now gets weekly subcutaneous injections of antibodies to lessen his risk of acquiring infections.
It helps that the basketball players — his team — cheer him up when he needs it most.
“They have been so supportive,” says Liam’s mother, Katie Knobl, of the players and staff. “They don’t know it, but they are part of our daily conversations in our house. All day, every day, he talks about his team. When they win, it’s like he was out there on the court playing, too. And when they lose, he feels the loss as hard as they do.”
Team members have visited Liam’s school to host a basketball clinic and attended a church fair to play games with him. Players were also there at his kindergarten graduation.
“These young men have shown incredible leadership through the way that they have embraced Liam and walked with him and his family through his health journey,” says Team Impact’s Danielle Calabro. “I am in awe of the reciprocity and level of engagement that this team has with Liam and his family.”
“I think the entire basketball team brings energy to Liam,” says senior forward Devine Eke, a filmmaking, TV and radio major. “We allow him to express himself and have fun.” He adds that Liam likes to dance so the players dance with him in the locker room before games.
When Liam first became part of the team, Rider held a “Draft Day” press conference where the University announced he was now a part of the team’s roster and he got to sign his National Letter of Intent. He has been featured in the team photo and held a birthday party at Rider, getting a video-shout out during halftime.
Senior Associate Director of Athletics Karin Torchia says the Team Impact program benefits the athletes who participate as much as the children they help. “Liam brings inspiration, courage and bravery to the team,” says Torchia. “If they think they are having a tough day, they realize that others face even greater challenges.”