Amidst a flurry of early signings in college athletics, seven-year-old Sophia Bell of Sully has committed to join the Central College softball program as part of Team IMPACT Draft Day. Bell is among 30,000 U.S. patients living with cystic fibrosis, a disease predominantly diagnosed in children by age two. Bell was joined by family members along with Central coaches and team members at a recent signing ceremony in the M. Joan Kuyper Farver Atrium in P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. As part of the Dutch team, she will be in attendance at practices, games and off-field activities and has already joined the squad at team study tables.

“The opportunity to participate in a program like Team IMPACT is good not only for Sophia but for our athletes to discover ways to give back to the community,” said Alicia O’Brien, senior associate athletics director and associate head softball coach. “Sophia’s a little girl who’s had a difficult life so far and it makes you more appreciative of what you have. I’m really happy that the players have embraced the opportunity to be a teammate to Sophia and have reached out to her quite a few times already.”

Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletics teams, seeking to foster bonds and life-changing outcomes. Team IMPACT has more than 1,200 teams across the country waiting to be matched with children, ages 5-16, who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness and who could benefit from joining the team. More information is available at www.goteamimpact.org.

Teams are asked to remain connected with the children for two years.

“It will be very easy to have Sophia as part of our program,” O’Brien said. “We’re not looking at it as a two-year commitment, but as a way to embrace her and be a part of her life. I think the benefits for her are going to be big but I think the benefits for our players is going to be life-changing.”