Lewis Men’s Lacrosse and Their Team IMPACT Teammate Avery Surprise and Inspire, On the Field and In the Classroom

Last month, 12-year-old Avery was at school when what he thought was a typical PE class turned into one of his new favorite memories. His teammates on the Lewis men’s lacrosse team surprised him at school to spend the day with him, playing kickball and meeting his classmates. “The look and smile on Avery’s face was priceless,” his mom, Katrena, shares. Lewis Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Joe Perruzzi remembers this day as one of his favorites with Avery so far. “The smile on his face was ear-to-ear, and he was so surprised we were at his school,” Coach says. “He was so excited to see us, it made our players and coaches feel lucky we could make such a positive impact on his day.” 

The positive impact through their connection with the Lewis Flyers is felt by more than just Avery and the men’s lacrosse team. Avery has cerebral palsy and was matched with Flyers lacrosse program through Team IMPACT in December of 2022. Since then, the journey has been life-changing—not only for Avery but for his entire family. Avery is a triplet, and his sisters, Natalie and Riley, also have cerebral palsy and are on Team IMPACT journeys of their own. Avery’s mother, Katrena, and Coach Perruzzi shared the impact this program has had on Avery and his family and how Team IMPACT has fostered a sense of belonging and friendship. 

“Avery is a typical 12-year-old boy who loves his family, loves his dogs, enjoys sports, loves trying new foods, and is wicked good at math,” Katrena proudly shares. Avery faces additional challenges when it comes to his mobility, relying on a wheelchair and needing assistance for everyday activities and routines. Despite this, his interests and passions are no different from any child his age. Since Avery joined his team in December of last year, Coach Perruzzi has noted an immediate change. “Avery has injected a jolt of energy into the Lewis Lacrosse program,” he says. “Avery’s vibrant presence and enthusiasm have become a cherished aspect of the team’s dynamics. He is such a blessing to our program in so many ways.”  

Avery often struggles to feel accepted, experiencing instances where he is excluded by his peers. “He has invited some boys over to the house to hang out and play video games, but then in public, these same boys have turned around and walked away, acting like they don’t even know him,” Katrena shared. Team IMPACT came into the family’s lives during a time when Avery was feeling particularly disheartened, hoping to provide him with a place where he could feel accepted and embraced for who he truly is. 

The initial meeting between Avery, his family, and the Lewis lacrosse team was a blend of nerves and excitement. “Avery was nervous. I was nervous. I think the guys were nervous too,” Katrena admits. Worries about hurting Avery or seeing him as just a little kid loomed in his mom’s mind. But those fears disappeared with the team’s immediate warm welcome to Avery and his family. 

“Initially, Avery displayed some shyness upon meeting the team. However, as he became more familiar with the players and coaches, he gradually broke out of his shell,” Coach Perruzzi shares. “His outgoing nature allowed him to forge genuine connections and be his authentic self around the team. Avery’s ability to bond with the team members and coaches fostered an environment of inclusivity and acceptance.” 

From the moment Avery joined Team IMPACT, there have been countless heartwarming memories. Katrena shares one such memory, “When my daughter Natalie was going to hang out at the women’s lacrosse practice, a bunch of the guys came early to just hang out on the bleachers with him.” This simple act of camaraderie left a lasting impression on Avery and his family. Additionally, Senior Day became a memorable occasion when the team actively sought out pictures with Avery, solidifying their bond. 

Even Coach Perruzzi has been surprised by the changes he’s seen in his players and on his team since Avery joined. “Knowing that Avery looks forward to coming to practice and seeing our coaches and players is something I never thought we could provide to someone outside of our program,” Coach shares. “The energy amongst our team is electric and very positive any time Avery is out at practice or on the sideline for games.” Avery’s motivational speeches, often concluding with a spirited “Go Flyers!,” ignite the team’s enthusiasm and unify their efforts towards their shared goal. Avery’s continuous support fuels the team’s determination and enhances their collective spirit. 

As the season comes to an end and most of the team returns home for the summer, Avery and his local teammates have already made plans to have a summer BBQ and continue growing their bond through the summer. Avery’s first season with the team has had a profound impact on his confidence and social interactions. “He seems to open up around people more,” Katrena shares. Furthermore, the experience has transformed the dynamics within their family. Avery was the first of his siblings to get matched with the Flyers through Team IMPACT, with his sisters Natalie and Riley joining the women’s lacrosse and cheerleading teams respectively in January of this year. Avery, who is the only of his siblings to use a wheelchair, now has a team of his own, and his siblings have a tangible way to support their brother, bridging the gap that previously existed when Avery attended their activities alone. 

Through his involvement with the team, Avery is learning to use his voice and ask others for help. Katrena believes that the team is also learning valuable lessons from their time with Avery. “I hope the team is learning that people in wheelchairs are just that—people,” she says. “That just like anybody, they want to belong to something bigger than them. Avery may be on the sidelines, but so are the coaches. It doesn’t make him any less invested or any less of a team member just because he isn’t on the field.” 

Coach Perruzzi hopes that the diverse composition of his team continues to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment for Avery and all his players. “Our team is full of a lot of different guys from a lot of different walks of life. We are unique, and everyone is a little bit different individually. But we all come together and work together toward the same common goal,” Coach says. “Avery is unique and different individually, just like all the guys on our team. I want him to be comfortable in his own skin and be confident that whatever challenges he faces, he can conquer them.”