Katie Schools warms up and cools down with the University of Richmond women's lacrosse team, has a T-shirt with her own number on it and cheers on the team from the sidelines. She even has her own locker.
But Katie has not even had her 10th birthday.
"She's as much of a part of the team as you can be without being accepted into the University of Richmond through the admissions office," said Stephy Samaras, head coach of the women's lacrosse team.
The lacrosse team was matched with Katie through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, an organization that pairs children with brain tumors with high school and college sports teams.
Doctors diagnosed a brain tumor in Katie when she was one year old. Since then, she has had a variety of treatments in multiple hospitals. Her current primary care location is St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Recently, Katie had an MRI in Memphis that showed her tumor was shrinking.
Katie has an optic glioma, which is rare.
"Because it is a rare condition, you have to find the people who are best at treating that and it isn't always in your backyard," Katie's mother, Susan Schools, said.
Susan said Katie knew everything about her condition and that the family never kept it from her.
"It just kind of is who she is," Susan said. "Kind of like she's a Girl Scout, she's a fourth-grader. She has a brain tumor. She doesn't dwell on any one thing, so it's just a part of who she is."
Katie was matched with the women's lacrosse team in May 2008. The players stay involved in Katie's life by sending her cards and gift packages. One player even helped Katie sell almost 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies at Richmond last year.
On Sept. 27, many of the lacrosse players and their coaches went to Chili's in Short Pump to eat dinner and celebrate Katie's good news about her MRI. This was also Chili's national donation day to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
After she ate dinner with her family, Katie sat and talked with the girls on the team. She sat next to junior Caitlin Fifield, whom she has become especially close with.
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Fifield had surgery on her knee during May 2009 and stayed in Richmond to recover. The Schools family came to visit her several times, so she has spent a lot of time with Katie.
"Katie is an amazing little girl who just as a person is so awesome, but is such a big part of our team," Fifield said.
Fifield said that because Katie had been going through so much for so long, she had inspired the players, and they played for Katie at their games.
"The biggest thing is probably she's just showed everybody hope," Samaras said. "She is a fighter and we all see that about her so it really helps us translate that onto the field as well."
The whole family is connected to the team. Katie goes to the games with Susan, her dad, Chris, and her younger sister, Kelly, who is six.
Samaras said that Katie's parents even used their vacation time to watch the team play its away games.
The Schools family even made the six-hour drive to Pittsburgh to see the team play during the Atlantic 10 tournament last spring.
Even though this arrangement was made to help Katie, it has been beneficial for everybody, Susan said.
"It really is another little family for us," Susan said about the team.
Samaras said that everything they did for Katie, they did for Kelly also because Katie wanted Kelly there with her.
Susan said that Katie stood on the sidelines even when she was hot because it was part of being on the team.
"We hang out together a lot," Katie said when asked what the Richmond Spiders do to help her.
Katie shyly said that her favorite part about being a Spider was watching the games and being on the sidelines.
"She's a quiet ball of fire," Samaras said. "She doesn't say much, but she absorbs everything and she takes everything in, and she's one of those people that when she speaks, you want to listen. You don't have to necessarily, but you really want to because it's always coming from her heart."
Fifield said Katie was shy on the outside, but when she was in smaller groups, she opened up a lot and let the girls know everything about her life.
"She's an old soul, so she relates to older people and so this is like the prime situation with her," Susan said. "She's in her element. She gets older people who are chatting with her and she loves it."
Samaras, who began coaching at the university last year, said that she was really excited about what the team was doing with Katie. She said that Fifield and senior Bria Eulitt really led the relationship with the Schools family.
"To inherit something that sees just love and passion come out of the girls that I get to work with every day, it gives me a whole different level of respect for them as student-athletes and what they have to go through," Samaras said. "And it just allows me to sometimes yell at them a little bit more, but love them a little bit more at the same time."
Fifield said seeing Katie on the sidelines made her play harder.
"I think it's awesome just being able to be on the field and look on the sidelines and see a little girl who puts her whole heart into her team," she said.
Contact staff writer Michelle Guerrere at email@example.com
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