At the start of this school year, as many University of Arizona students were gearing up for the first day of classes, the UA Women's basketball team prepared by welcoming the newest and perhaps youngest member of their team. At three years old, Makayla Smith became the latest addition to the Wildcat family.
Makayla's story is not a typical one. In May 2009, then two year old Makayla was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. More than a year after her initial diagnosis, Makalya is still undergoing treatment and the family is hopeful about her recovery. In August of 2010 through an organization named Friends of Jaclyn, a non-profit group who works with children with pediatric brain tumors and their families by creating relationships with athletics teams, Makayla was matched with the UA Women's Basketball team. The goal of this organization is to create support networks and lasting relationships for these children and their families. The children matched with these teams get a unique opportunity to see first-hand what teamwork is all about while developing new friendships along the way.
The Wildcats welcomed Makayla, her sister Jordan, and parents at an informal meeting in early August. At this meeting, Makayla and family were able to meet members of the coaching staff and players for the first time. Makayla and Jordan joined women's basketball players, Brooke Jackson, Ify Ibekwe, Erica Barnes and Davellyn Whyte for a quick game of hide and seek. A formal adoption ceremony also took place at a team meeting for the family to meet the rest of the Wildcats. At this second meeting Makayla and Jordan were able to go swimming and enjoy a meal with the UA student-athletes and coaching staff.
The team is excited for their relationship to grow and cannot wait to learn more about the girls. Throughout the course of the year, the team will invite Makayla and her family to a variety of events and is excited to have their support at many of the Wildcats' games this season. Both parties are excited to learn from one another. As Makayla enjoys her time with new friends, the team will be relying on her support throughout the season as she cheers them on from the stands!