The UNC wrestling team signed its youngest ever player this Wednesday — 7-year-old Mason Fannin of Clayton, N.C.
Mason joins the wrestling team’s ranks thanks to the Boston-based nonprofit Team IMPACT, which connects children with chronic illnesses to college athletic teams.
Mason was diagnosed with leukemia in February and began treatments at UNC Children’s Hospital. In the following months, Mason’s family connected with Team IMPACT, which matched him with the wrestling team.
Mason’s dad said once they met, things started to look up for the family.
“You go from real, real low to something like this — it brightens it up and gives us a positive outlook,” Jeremy Fannin said. “He has a bigger team that surrounds him now.”
At the ceremony, Mason signed a National Letter of Intent and met with wrestling coaches, athletes and even Ramses. As a member of the team, Mason will be welcome at all practices, games and team events.
Coleman Scott, head coach for the wrestling team, said he’s been taking his players to the Children’s Hospital to spend time with patients for the past couple years. When they met Mason, the team knew they’d found someone special — nicknaming him "Warrior Mason" because of his strength.
“The adversity that he’s overcome at such a young age, it’s inspiring because he’s experienced some stuff that I might never experience in my life,” Scott said. “He’s pushed through it, and he's got a smile on his face.”
Gino Esposito, a redshirt sophomore wrestler, said he and his team are looking forward to developing a relationship with Mason.
“He has such a vibrant personality, and we’re really looking forward to just making it a family, sharing life with him,” Esposito said.
Mason is not the first child to sign with a UNC team through Team IMPACT. This August, 8-year-old Kelsie Houston, a Pittsboro native who suffers from cystic fibrosis, signed onto the Tar Heel volleyball team.
Kelly Roberts, director of marketing and communications for Team IMPACT, said her organization has three goals for the children they serve: gaining a sense of belonging, confidence and optimism.
“We hear stories from parents daily about how their child has come out of their shell, has built their confidence and feels like they're part of a team,” Roberts said. “They’re not mascots to the team. They're truly part of the team.”
As for Mason, he said the thing he’s most excited for isn’t the wrestling, but the Nerf war he’s been promised in the athletic lounge with his new teammates.