La Roche College men's soccer players to make boy battling leukemia their honorary captain
A 5-year-old Ohio boy who is being treated for leukemia at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC will play a special role for the La Roche College men's soccer team during an Oct. 22 game in McCandless.
Leo Zambori, of Martin's Ferry, will serve as honorary captain and be a guest on the sidelines when the Redhawks take on Penn State-Behrend.
A soccer fan, Leo met La Roche sophomore and goalie Conner Hagins last April when Hagins visited the oncology ward at Children's during the Cuddles for Kids second Kickin' It With the Kids event.
Hagins, 20, of Upper Yoder, Cambria County, started the Cuddles for Kids charity in 2006 when he was 9. While visiting his father in the hospital, he noticed that only certain patients received stuffed animals and other items. He didn't think that was right, and thus began his crusade to ensure everyone has access to these types of items.
Since then, this charity has distributed more than $16,000 in grants and donated more than $430,000 in toys, stuffed animals, coloring books and school supplies to children's agencies and hospitals around the world.
Besides having Leo serve as honorary captain, the team will don “I Wear Gold for Leo” T-shirts during warmups.
Members of the men's and women's squads will sell game-day shirts, with proceeds going to help Leo's family.
Oct. 22 is Senior Day for both teams.
The two squads are selling tickets for a Steelers merchandise basket as another fundraiser for the family, and will have Leo draw the winner at halftime.
They also will donate proceeds from a 50/50 raffle toward Leo's care.
A kindergarten student who is educated at home, Leo is counting the days to the game and looks forward to practicing with players during warm-ups.
“I'm really, really excited,” he said, adding Hagins has become a good friend.
“He keeps asking when (Oct. 22) is going to be here,” said Leo's mother, Natalie Zambori.
Hagins said it was a team effort to make Leo captain, and he is proud of the whole school for chipping in.
“The fact my entire college supports my charity and cares (so) much about it is quite special,” he said.
It will be the second time Leo will serve as honorary captain.
On Sept. 16, he walked out to the field with team members before a game at Bethany College.
Redhawks coach David Day said the boy inspires his squad.
“They see a higher value in their roles as student-athletes and young adults,” Day said.
Leo was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April.
After being hospitalized for two weeks, he began treatments at Children's as an outpatient.
Natalie Zambori said he will receive care there for the next few years.
Karen Kadilak is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.