The Littlest Red Hawk

‌Eight-year-old Shayne James inspires football team

The Montclair State football team had a new honorary captain this season: 8-year-old Shayne James. When Shayne was 18 months old, he was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. While his disease has been in remission since June 2005, side effects from three years of chemotherapy and steroid and antibiotic treatments prevent Shayne from playing the game he loves. The Red Hawks gave him the next best thing.

Team IMPACT, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses, matched Shayne with the Montclair State football team, says Student Development for Athletes Coordinator Tara Rienecker. “After the match, we formed an ‘A Team’ that kept in contact with Shayne and his family on a regular basis,” she says.

As part of the team, Shayne regularly attended practices and served as an honorary captain at the Red Hawks’ home games. “He joined the team for the coin toss and sometimes even texted back and forth with the guys on the ‘A Team’,” says Rienecker. He and his family cheered the team on at home and even at some away games. Yet the Midland Park, N.J., boy was more than a devoted fan, he was an inspiration to all of his teammates.

“Shayne inspired the team by always picking us up and making sure we worked hard. He inspired me by reminding me to be strong no matter what,” says Omar Morales, a junior tight end on the team.

Says Brian Bloom, a senior offensive lineman, “Whenever he visited practice, everyone put that little extra bit of effort in to show him how good we can be.”

Getting to know Shayne gave the team a new perspective. “He’s been through so much,” says Morales. “Yet he’s very outgoing and always—and I mean always—has a smile on his face. Once you’re around him, you can’t help but smile.”

According to Bloom, Shayne scored big with the team. “Never before have I seen ten grown men stand in a circle and vie for the attention of a child.”

Players also spent time with Shayne and his family off the field. “He was, in every sense of the phrase, on our team,” says Bloom. “I expect to stay in touch with Shayne and his family even after I graduate.”

Although the season’s over, the James family will remain part of the team. “Once a Montclair State Red Hawk, always a Montclair State Red Hawk,” says Morales.

Shayne James on the fieldAbove: Shayne lines up with the team and joins the team for the coin toss.