Judson volleyball team adds special recruit -- a 10-year-old cancer patient
Tiffany Clark took one last moment to look over the press conference backdrop with a discerning eye. Judson University's assistant volleyball coach pulled taut the white tablecloth and arranged name plates to be even with the table's edge.
She took great care in folding Judson's No. 1 jersey before placing it just so, within camera view, of course. The jersey was joined by a proud Judson Eagle statuette, a gleaming new red-white-and-blue volleyball and -- the most important item of the day -- signing papers for the newest recruit.
Now the stage was set for Ella Joy Won to make her grand entrance.
Head Coach Julia Fahy rose to introduce the South Elgin 10-year-old as her "top recruit."
"We are so excited for draft day and to add a new member to our roster for the 2020 season," Fahy said Thursday as she detailed a partnership with Team IMPACT, a Boston-based agency that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.
Ella Joy was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013, and subsequently endured intense treatment before a relapse in 2017 with T-cell leukemia. After a bone-marrow transplant, her doctors indicated that, in 2017, the latest treatment appears to be doing its job.
Team members of Judson's Eagles, clad in matching gold team shirts, cast admiring looks on Ella as she entered the room. Players approached Ella to offer handwritten notes of encouragement.
"We are excited to join her, support her and encourage her and her family," said Fahy. "We hope to learn from Ella's strength, her resiliency and her courage. As she is a fighter, and we hope to aspire to be like her."
Ella Joy sat respectfully at the table with her mother Anne and brother, Asaph, trading smiles with Coach Fahy and her family during the proceedings.
When it came time to take the pen in hand, Ella Joy turned all business as she asked the coach to make sure she was signing on the correct line.
Heartfelt applause from her new teammates and a team cheer concluded the brief ceremony.
"It is our prayer that she is in remission," her mom Anne said, adding that Ella Joy has gotten good news on her test results since July of 2017.
As part of the team, Ella Joy will attend practices and games, participate in team dinners and more.