NEW YORK – Since the hiring of head coach Andrea Cofrin in September 2015, the Columbia women’s lacrosse team has made several key additions to the program. Along with new faces, including assistant coach Kelly McPartland and eight incoming players, a very familiar face still shines through.

Six-year-old Aliyah Thompson, who signed with the team back in September of 2013, enters her third year as a member of the Columbia lacrosse team and continues to build a strong connection with the squad.

Thanks to the assistance of Team IMPACT, a foundation that matches courageous kids with local college athletic teams, the Lions were able to sign Aliyah to their team in 2013.

Team IMPACT is a foundation that works closely with a child and the team they are drafted onto, and with the help of the parents and teammates, they outline the quality of life goals and desired outcomes for the overall relationship and experience. Once a child has successfully reached these goals, they will graduate from the program, joining their fellow graduated teammates as alumnus.

In a note from Aliyah’s mother, Toni, she explained, “At birth, Aliyah was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. At two weeks old, she started taking medication. At 18 months old, she was hospitalized for the first time. By the time Aliyah was two, she had been hospitalized four times due to an enlarged spleen. In an attempt to avoid having her spleen removed, Aliyah was put on bi-weekly blood transfusions. But, just shy of her fourth birthday – after nearly 40 blood transfusions – her spleen was causing her too many problems and was removed. Later that year, Aliyah suffered her first sickle cell crisis while we were vacationing in Virginia. We spent the entire five-day vacation in a remote hospital. Finally understanding what it would mean for Aliyah to live with sickle cell anemia, we saw the benefit of her having the support of a team.”

Through bake sales at Columbia soccer games this past fall, the team raised over $700 towards the support of Aliyah’s family, while also scheduling visits and play-dates on weekends.

Overall, Aliyah’s life is not the only one being changed thanks to the support of Team IMPACT and these new life-long friends, but the Lions themselves have received a new family-member.

"I'm really proud of our team and their commitment this semester to spending time with Aliyah and her family," said Columbia lacrosee head coach Andrea Cofrin. "The team set up a few bake sales this semester and raised over $700 to go towards Aliyah's medical expense. We are hoping Aliyah will be able to join us on the sidelines this spring!"

2016 is expected to be an exciting season with several new faces stepping onto Robert K. Kraft Field for the home opener against Drexel, Saturday, February 20. Although a familiar six-year-old girl will once again be making a positive impact on her teammates from the sidelines.

Note from Aliyah's mother, Toni:

"At birth, Aliyah was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. At two weeks old, she started taking medication. At 18 months old, she was hospitalized for the first time. By the time Aliyah was 2, she had been hospitalized 4 times due to an enlarged spleen. In an attempt to avoid having her spleen removed, Aliyah was put on bi-weekly blood transfusions. But, just shy of her fourth birthday – after nearly 40 blood transfusions – her spleen was causing her too many problems and was removed. Later that year, Aliyah suffered her first sickle cell crisis while we were vacationing in Virginia. We spent the entire five-day vacation in a remote hospital. Finally understanding what it would mean for Aliyah to live with sickle cell anemia, we saw the benefit of her having the support of a team.

We were matched with the Columbia Women’s Lacrosse Team a month later, in September 2013. The team and Aliyah immediately hit it off. They shared an interest in Disney and playing Hide and Seek. The team organized ice cream parties and movie nights and we went to practices and games to cheer them on. The team has also volunteered each year to help with Mount Sinai’s annual holiday party, where Aliyah was going for her care. Aliyah became especially close with the team captain, Paige, whom we have remained close with since she graduated.

Our partnership with the team has become everything we imagined it could be for Aliyah. Paige is practically part of the family. This summer, when Aliyah underwent a bone marrow transplant, Paige helped take care of Aliyah in the hospital. The team sent Aliyah gifts and made her a get-well book. Since the transplant, since Aliyah can’t attend school or be in public places, the team created a visiting schedule. Each Saturday and Sunday for the past two months, a few members of the team have visited our home so that Aliyah has friends to play with. Aliyah always starts the play-date by challenging them to a game of Connect 4. The team has even held bake sales, which raised hundreds of dollars to help our family during this time.  

The team has taken such initiative in nurturing our relationship, making sure we stayed connected even during difficult times. I was skeptical about being matched with a lacrosse team at first, because our family didn’t know anything about the sport. The Team IMPACT staff stressed to us that the sport is really secondary to the team’s desire to be matched with a kid. I’m glad the organization pushed us to trust this. It could not be truer.  

Thank you team impact and thank you Columbia Women’s Lacrosse Team."