BELLEVUE – Abigail Harvey has made a positive impact on the Conestoga High School softball program with her courageous approach to a chronic health condition.
She will have a chance to display that infectious optimism to Bellevue University’s softball squad as well.
Harvey, 7, signed an official letter of intent Thursday afternoon to become a member of Bellevue’s team. Scores of people came to the Criss Auditorium in Bellevue University’s Hitchcock Humanities Center for the signing ceremony. Many college students and community members cheered for Harvey as she penned her name to the letter of intent.
Bellevue University head softball coach Michala Cimino said she was thrilled to have Harvey join the program. Harvey was diagnosed in utero with spina bifida, which is a medical condition that has caused her to undergo more than 20 surgeries in her lifetime. She will attend Bruins practices, games, team dinners and many other events over the next two years.
“We’ve got ourselves a little rock star,” Cimino said. “We can’t wait to get her on the softball diamond.”
Parents Adam and Sarah Harvey, sister Elizabeth and brother Matthew joined Abigail on stage for the signing ceremony. Sarah Harvey is the elementary physical education teacher at Conestoga and was head softball coach at CHS from 2014-17. Elizabeth, Matthew and Abigail are all students in the Conestoga district.
National non-profit organization Team IMPACT helped the partnership between the Harveys and Bellevue University take place. The mission of the Boston-based group is to connect children who have serious or chronic conditions with college sports teams. More than 1,600 children have formed lifelong bonds with 500 colleges and universities across the United States since 2011.
The Harveys contacted Team IMPACT earlier this year to see if the organization could find a college partner for Abigail. Team IMPACT officials approved the request and began searching for a school located within reasonable driving distance of Cass County. They also wanted to pair Abigail with a female sports program.
Sarah Harvey said Team IMPACT officials told her the timetable for locating a college companion could last as long as several months. The family had to wait only several weeks before learning that Bellevue’s softball program was eager to welcome Abigail to the Bruins family.
“She was so excited when she found out,” Sarah Harvey said. “She’s always been a fan of sports like softball, so when she found out she could be a team member here at Bellevue she was thrilled. She’s extremely excited to be with the team.”
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines spina bifida as a medical condition that involves incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord or their protective coverings. The condition is caused by the failure of the fetus’ spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. The spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth, but the nerve damage is permanent.
NINDS officials say there is no cure for spina bifida because the nerve tissue cannot be replaced or repaired. There are a variety of treatments available for children with spina bifida. These include surgery, medication and physiotherapy.
Conestoga softball players have raised money for the Spina Bifida Association each of the past several years at home games. Abigail has attended many CHS events and has played with the AllPlay Miracle Baseball/Softball League in Omaha. She has also started participating in a wheelchair basketball league.
Those in attendance Thursday watched Abigail sign her letter at the beginning of the ceremony. She then beamed when Cimino presented her with a custom-made softball jersey. The front of the uniform says Bruins and the back includes Harvey’s last name. Both sides feature her uniform number 4.
Bellevue softball players and coaches gave her high-fives as they walked on stage. They then ended the ceremony by gathering for a team photo with Abigail in the front row.