There are two stories in this piece that show the human side of sports, especially college sports.
We typically are inundated with news that sometimes makes us forget the ultimate mission and purpose of collegiate athletics, and that is to hopefully make better people out of the students from when they arrived. Yes, that’s even more important than wins and losses.
The plan was to write just one story, about a little boy signed to a letter of intent at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., but wanting to put a local angle to the story, a call was made to Northern Oklahoma College athletic director Jeremy Hise to get his thoughts and whether he would consider something similar at NOC.
Hise liked the idea of the program, noting the role of NOC is developing young adults and it would serve as a great learning experience.
Hise then advised they already had a similar story, and proceeded to explain how the team has adopted a 5-year-old with cancer as its team captain.
He directed me to NOC Tonkawa head baseball coach Terry Ballard, who filled in the details.
Thus began a two-week journey that had me in contact with the remarkable moms of two equally remarkable kids — one in Tennessee, and one here in Oklahoma — two great schools and a wonderful organization that helps sick children.
Their stories, their struggles, fears, triumphs and the immensely positive impact their association with a couple of welcoming college teams wove two touching tales and hopefully we were able to do them justice by presenting them here today.
‘Team Maverick’ has been a special journey
It all started with a Facebook post for Northern Oklahoma College Tonkawa head baseball coach Terry Ballard that led to an emotional journey with the Mavericks entering the life of 5-year-old cancer patient Maverick Nixon.
Or, maybe, more accurately, he entered their lives.
Ballard, now in his 17th year as head coach, saw a Facebook post from a friend of his, Connie Hallam, a nurse at OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. She posted a note and a photo that asked for prayers for Maverick.
“I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Ballard said. “His name is Maverick, and we’re the Mavericks.” Ballard felt it was too strong of a coincidence, almost as if something divine was at play.
The next day he got the names of Maverick’s parents, mom Jayme Nixon and dad Josh Nixon — who is the assistant principal at Hilldale High School in Muskogee — and asked if he could do anything for Maverick.
He also found out about something called neuroblastoma, a disease as scary as its name implies.
“It’s a bone marrow disease only kids can get,” Ballard said. “I didn’t know much about it. Children’s cancer is children’s cancer, I mean, you know it’s bad.”
It was bad.
Maverick’s mom, Jayme, taught middle school English until Maverick — the oldest of two boys — became ill, requiring attention. She shares much of the frightening diagnosis and the grueling medical path the youngster has had to endure via the NOC Tonkawa website (noc.edu/baseball), where there is a section titled “Maverick ... our captain.” She also has created a Team Maverick Facebook page.