All 12-year-old Sandy Hook resident Cooper McLaughlin wanted was a mentor to look up to. Now he has 49 mentors -- the members of Western Connecticut State University's men's lacrosse team.
Cooper was diagnosed with the blood disorder ITP, or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura -- a blood disorder that causes low blood platelets and a risk of over-bleeding. Bad bruising, headaches and fatigue can slow ITP patients down, and while the condition can be fatal, Cooper appears likely to overcome it.
"I've been trying to get him a mentor forever -- probably since he was six," says his mother Lorraine. "But for some reason, in western Connecticut, they just don't have any volunteers. Then the lacrosse team came along."
WCSU lacrosse coach Jason Oulette got in touch with Lorraine and Cooper thanks to a program called Team IMPACT, which works to give kids with illnesses an opportunity to hang out with college athletic teams. On Sunday, the team welcomed Cooper with an honorary jersey -- and a standing ovation.
"It was really exciting," says Cooper. "I walked in the room with all the guys clapping for me. We played on the field, they taught me a little about lacrosse. I was a little nervous at first, but then I got used to it. There's a lot of people there, so I was going upstairs to meet all of them I was a little shy."
Cooper, a sixth-grader at Reed Intermediate School, is an athletic kid -- he's in the in-house soccer league, and has wrestled and played hockey. He keeps a close eye on his platelets, since he's not able to play if his count drops.
After Sunday's event, he may be destined to become a lacrosse lover -- he'll be attending the team's games, and they'll be attending his. They'll act as mentors, staying available to guide him and accompany him on outings.
"I can't wait for some of the guys to come to my soccer games and take me places," he says.
And Oulette says he's ready for Cooper to get started.
"We're just trying to make him feel as much as part of the team as we can," he says. "I'm excited for our guys to get to know him a little bit. When I was talking to his mom, she said that meeting was the first time he was actually speechless."