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Hoops and Hope

CRAWFORD | Seth Walsh, age 7 and a cancer survivor, signs on with Bellarmine hoops

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The amazing thing about the story that unfolded in Bellarmine’s Knights’ Hall on Thursday afternoon is that it was nothing new.

Scott Davenport does things like this all the time, or tries to. For somebody. Anybody that can be helped, anything he can do.

Thursday it was for Seth Walsh, a 7-year-old from Mount Washington who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on the day after Christmas in 2018. For 4 years, his life has been more doctors and nurses than friends and fun.

He has undergone intensive chemotherapy and radiation. He has relapsed four times, and each time, it brought as much fear and uncertainty as the original diagnoses to his parents, Michelle and Trevor Walsh. Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati became like a second home. At the moment, he's in palliative care, having several weeks ago received a new treatment from Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia that has resulted in remission.

So on Thursday, at Bellarmine’s basketball camp with kids his own age all around, the family was all smiles.

Bellarmine put out a table and a podium, stacked up a bunch of hats, sat him in the middle of his whole family and held a kind of mini-signing ceremony in front of hundreds of screaming fans (and trust me, they could scream).

Through Team IMPACT, an organization that pairs kids with medical difficulties with college athletic teams, Bellarmine signed Seth Walsh to its 2022 recruiting class. The first-grader will ride on the team bus with the Knights when they go to their season-opener at Louisville. He’ll come to practice if he wants. He’ll be at games when he can. He’ll be around the team and players as much as he’s able.

“You’ll be one of us,” graduate guard Juston Betz told him. So did Patrick McSweeney, who was similarly signed by Bellarmine as a leukemia patient back in 2013. He told Walsh how it would be, and is in a unique position to share with the young man. He’s a survivor of the same disease. Bellarmine wrapped its arms around him, and didn’t let go.

“If they win a championship ring, you win a ring. If they get shoes, you get shoes,” he told Seth. “If they get it, you get it.”

But more than that, he gets a chance to have fun, to smile and be a part of something that isn’t a medical hardship, and to learn about being part of a team.

“It's such a fun day,” Michelle Walsh said. “Just get to be here with everybody and have a fun experience for him. You know, he's gone through a lot. So to see him out and just get to do something different and fun is really special.”

Just down the table from Seth sat his older brother Max. When he was Seth’s age, he donated his own bone marrow to try to save or extend his brother’s life. On the other side of the table was his other big brother, Brayden.

“There’s a lot of strength at that table,” Davenport leaned over and said to me. “For our guys, college is about life lessons. And that’s real life. Seth is bringing life's lessons to this basketball program. Extraordinary people make others better. Today, 7-year-old Seth Walsh made this basketball program and everybody associated with it better. It’s a chance for them to be part of something bigger than themselves. Cancer touches us all.”

With the gym full of screaming campers, Seth was a bit quieter. But as it emptied out, and he was left with the team, he was smiling, dribbling the basketball, talking to players.

Asked how he felt about being made a member of the Bellarmine team, Seth answered with one word: "Happy."

For his parents, that's what it’s all about.

“It's been pretty amazing,” Trevor Walsh said. “The one thing that's been really special this whole time is that everything he's gone through, there's been so many people from so many different areas that have offered to help, offered to do things. And just seeing that many people reach out has been amazing. He's really excited about this. And he loves playing basketball, but he's still a little short, so it's hard to make baskets on the big hoop, but he's going to get there.”

With luck, he’ll get as far as he wants to go, and he’ll be standing in Knights Hall one day, like McSweeney, talking to some other kid who could use the encouragement from one who has been where he’s been.

“It’s really something,” McSweeney said. “It feels like it’s come full circle.”

Davenport told Seth’s story earlier Thursday during a talk to the Middletown Chamber of Commerce. He went back to his table and the woman sitting next to him told him of a fundraiser she’s involved in that could help. He committed to it without even knowing what it was. Turns out, he committed to rappelling down the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Louisville in October.

When he tells you he’ll do anything he can, believe it.

And when you see the littlest Bellarmine Knight before this year’s season-opener against Louisville, you’ll know his story. And you'll remember the game is about far more than the final score.

To help Walsh’s family with medical expenses, visit this page, or the family’s Facebook page, "Seth's Squad," here.

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