March 17, 2010

Yale Adopts Local Teen Undergoing Treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital

Alanna Joins Bulldog Family; Bulldogs Also Add Sisters Mia and Emma

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – There were a few new additions to the Yale women’s lacrosse team for the team’s game at Reese Stadium Wednesday afternoon, helping the Bulldogs to a thrilling 8-7 win over Brown. The team has adopted a 13-year old girl, Alanna, who is being treated for a brain tumor at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. She and her younger sister Mia met the Bulldogs before practice on Tuesday, then joined them on the sideline during Wednesday’s victory. Their mother and their younger sister, Emma, watched from the stands.

Alanna and Mia came out onto the field before the game and were introduced to the crowd at Reese along with Yale’s starting lineup. They then headed to the sideline, where they watched a back-and-forth game that wasn’t decided until junior midfielder Kaitlyn Flatley scored the game-winning goal with nine seconds to play. The sisters joined every team huddle, including the one during a timeout right before Flatley’s game-winner.

“It was amazing to be in the huddle like that,” Alanna said. “I’ve never done anything like that before. That was really cool. It was really intense, and it was great to see their teamwork -- how they work together as teammates. That last pep talk was really loud.”

Alanna had been to a Yale football game before, and she has a cousin that played men’s lacrosse at NYIT. But she didn’t know much about Yale women’s lacrosse until the team, working with Smilow Cancer Hospital, identified her as a perfect match for the adoption program.

“I knew they were the Bulldogs, and that was about it,” she said.

The adoption is part of the nationwide “Friends of Jaclyn” program, which pairs college athletic teams -- including the Yale men’s lacrosse team, which adopted Sterling and his brother, Hunter, earlier this year -- with children with pediatric brain tumors to serve as a support group. The Bulldogs took their involvement one step further. They specifically sought out a patient from the newly opened Smilow Cancer Hospital, given the fact that Joel E. Smilow ‘54 has also been a tremendous supporter of Yale athletics in general and the Yale women’s lacrosse program in particular. Tuesday’s initial meeting between the team and Alanna took place in Smilow Field Center, the facility that houses the women’s lacrosse locker room and those of multiple other Yale teams. Anne Phillips is Yale’s Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women’s Lacrosse.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to this relationship,” Phillips said.  “Alanna is so outgoing and personable, and she has really taken an interest in Yale women’s lacrosse. She has made it easy for us. Having her mom and her sisters involved as well has made it that much more of a family affair. We try to foster a family atmosphere on our team anyway, and this is a big part of that.”

The sixth grader made an instant impression on her new teammates with her positive outlook. At Tuesday’s meeting, she and Mia joined in the official 2010 team photograph, got an autographed ball and some Yale gear, then headed off with the team for a tour of the locker room and training room. The sisters then showed up early Wednesday and got the chance to play on the sideline before the game.

Alanna began treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital earlier this month. She has had the tumor since she was a baby and had been treated at other hospitals before.

“Smilow [Cancer Hospital] is the nicest,” Alanna said. “It’s huge. I got in there the second day it was open. The oncology ward is really cool. It was cheery; not depressing. You walk in there and you see all the new stuff that they have. They have a healing garden, which is really cool.”

Alanna spends six hours at Smilow Cancer Center every week getting treatment, and the plan is for her new teammates to visit her there regularly now.

“This definitely means a lot,” Alanna said. “It’s really cool how they get me happy, and help me not to think about chemotherapy.”

The adoption is just part of an emphasis on community service that Phillips, who is in her second season in New Haven, has instilled in the team with help from her assistant coaches, Brigid Strain and Jillian Byers. Earlier this year, the Bulldogs had scheduled a free lacrosse clinic for local youth lacrosse players at a nearby facility. When Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake shortly before the clinic, the team quickly turned the event into a fundraiser and raised more than $3,500 for the American Red Cross. Later this season, the Bulldogs will take part in Under Armour’s “Power in Pink” campaign, wearing special pink jerseys for the game vs. Columbia on Apr. 17 to raise money for breast cancer charities.

The Bulldogs’ first meeting with Alanna made an instant impact.

“Her mom e-mailed Jill [Byers] last night,” Phillips said. “She said all Alanna talked about was meeting the team. It’s already made such a difference.”

And given the way that the Bulldogs have taken to the sisters, it’s clear that Alanna and her family have already made a difference for Yale -- in more than just the win column.

 “Knowing that we’re helping her at a tough time in her life makes it all worthwhile,” Phillips said. “But at the same time it’s a two-way street. Our team will benefit from knowing Alanna. She is inspiring and engaging.”

Of course, as with any relationship, there were some necessary sacrifices on both sides. While chatting with Alanna Tuesday, the Bulldogs learned that orange was her favorite color. Thus, prior to Wednesday’s game they decided to wear orange bows in their hair -- temporarily sporting one of the colors of a certain Ivy League rival.

“We wore the orange bows just for Alanna,” Phillips said. “But when I explained to her later that that’s Princeton’s color, she said blue is her new favorite color.”

Yale-Brown Photo Gallery

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity