BEVERLY– After a playing in a soccer game last year, what seemed like an ordinary injury revealed a far more serious problem for 11-year-old Lynnfield native Erik Bell and his family.
“He was playing goalie and had taken a really hard hit to the stomach,” Erik’s mom Adrienne said. “For four days he wasn’t feeling great, some swelling, and on the fourth day he started having respiratory issues so we decided to have him checked out at the ER.”
The trip to the emergency room revealed awful news for the Bell family.
“Within two hours they were 90 percent sure it was cancer,” Adrienne said. “He was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2017.”
While spending several months in the hospital one thing that Erik, who grew up playing soccer, lacrosse and flag football, missed the most was the camaraderie that comes with playing on a sports team.
“He was in the ICU for a week and after that moved down to the children’s oncology unit, we were there for six months,” Adrienne said. “He wasn’t able to play sports while getting treatment and one of the biggest things he missed was the camaraderie with his friends. Because of the treatment he wasn’t allowed to see a lot of his friends, because of the precautions.”
The Bell family was soon reached out to by Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit headquartered in Boston that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams, to pair Erik with a college team.
After months of recovering, Erik became an official member of the Endicott College Gulls football team, signing his letter of intent during a special “Draft Day” press conference at the school Monday afternoon.
“When team IMPACT reached out and said they had a couple colleges on the North Shore who might be interested he got so excited,” Adrienne said. “He lit right up and then later we found Endicott, which is so close and such a beautiful place to be. It just worked out beautifully.”
After signing his letter of intent, Erik was given his own Gulls jersey and fielded questions from some of his new teammates. Erik revealed that football’s actually his second favorite sport behind lacrosse and that he was excited to hang out with his new teammates.
As a team member Erik will attend practices, games, team dinners and more events with the Gulls.
“It’s been great, I think it’s not only a great experience for our football program but obviously for Erik,” Endicott first-year head coach Paul McGonagle said. “When our players are in the ‘dog days’ of camp or any time they feel tired they can just look over at Erik and understand that he’s a lot stronger and tougher than you could even imagine.
“I think overall we’re just excited to see him and see how our players are with him and how he how he is with them,” McGonagle said. “You can already see the reception he’s had, he came out in the spring and did some things with us. It’s a great addition and he’s our number one recruit.”
In addition to joining the Gulls, Erik will be able to go back to school this fall for his sixth grade year at Lynnfield Middle School after being declared cancer free following a surgery in June.
“It’s been so amazing,” Erik’s father Matt said. “Everyone reaching out, not just these teams but people in general. People that we didn’t really know before have all reached out to help with everything.”
“It just shows you what kind of community is around you that you’re not even aware of until you’re in such a tragic situation,” Adrienne said. “To have this support and especially from a student athlete’s perspective, to have all these older athletes to give him something to aspire to as he’s getting stronger and better every day.”