Three Cheers for the Home Team

“Fan the Fire” seeks to energize the Tufts community to support student athletes and their public service work
Honorary member of the women’s soccer team Joli Talusan Vega of Brockton, Mass., enjoys a game-day moment with her teammates, including Cleo Hirsch, A12. Photo: Alonso Nichols
September 13, 2011

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On Sept. 17, the spectators at the men’s and women’s soccer games at Kraft Field will do more than boost team spirits. Their cheers will help usher in a new program—Fan the Fire: Spirit, Sports, Service—which aims to promote Tufts Athletics and the players who are doing great things in the community.

“We hope to inspire the community and celebrate Tufts’ team spirit and commitment to service,” says program co-founder Melissa Burke, A11.

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At Saturday’s soccer games, which pit Tufts against Wesleyan University, members of the Tufts community are invited to meet President Anthony Monaco and enjoy free apples, hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and beverages. In addition, fans can sign up for a halftime penalty kick contest. Three people will be randomly chosen to participate, and the winner will receive two 50-yard-line tickets to the Patriots-Miami Dolphins game on Dec. 24. The women’s team will play the Wesleyan Cardinals at noon, and the men will play at 2:30 p.m.

The soccer games were chosen to inaugurate the program because the women’s team sponsors a child through Team IMPACT, which supports kids facing adversity, such as a serious illness, by matching them with collegiate athletic teams. The experience helps boost the confidence of children undergoing medical treatment and helps create a bond among teammates as they rally around a common cause.

Through its affiliation with Team IMPACT, members of the women’s soccer team are big sisters to 8-year-old Joli Talusan Vega, of Brockton, Mass., who was diagnosed at age 2 with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. Only 24 hours after receiving the diagnosis, Joli had emergency surgery to remove the diseased eye. Now cancer free, she wears a prosthetic eye. (See the story “Blinded: What the Doctor Did Not See.”)

She and the women on the soccer team enjoy each other’s friendship, and Joli sports her own Tufts soccer jersey and joins the team on the sidelines. The team helped celebrate Joli’s birthday recently and encourages her activities, which include dance, music, karate, gymnastics and, of course, soccer.

Project IMPACT was founded by a group of Tufts alumni, including Dan Kraft, A87, a Tufts trustee and president of the Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots, and Jay Calnan, E87, an athletics overseer and CEO of J. Calnan & Associates.

The Tufts baseball team undertook a similar project by sponsoring Adrian Misic, a young boy with brain cancer, through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which matches children with brain tumors with a nearby college or high school sports team. Sadly, Adrian died a year ago at age 8, but in the months beforehand, players visited him at home and in the hospital, and he went to practices and team dinners. Team members established a prize fund in Adrian’s memory and are still in touch with the boy’s parents.

“As proud as I am of our students for taking on every challenge put to them on the field, that pride grows tenfold when I see them take these kids under their wings off the field,” says Bill Gehling, A74, G79, director of Tufts Athletics.

Burke founded Fan the Fire with Amanda Roberts, A11, when the two created a marketing plan to encourage participation in Tufts athletics as a senior project for their communications and media studies minor. The pair presented their plan to the Athletics Board of Overseers, which was impressed and encouraged them to continue their work.

“This is the pilot year, and we’ll see if this makes a difference in terms of getting people to games and feeling Jumbo pride,” says Burke. “This year we’ll partner with teams that have already worked with organizations in the past. Then we hope we can bring in other organizations and partner them with teams.”

For information on future Fan the Fire events, go to the Tufts Athletics website.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.