KOKOMO, Ind. – Cassie Batic always wanted to play volleyball.
The soft-spoken seventh grader's multiple chronic health conditions sidelined her from team sports until spring 2021, when she signed on as part of the Indiana University Kokomo volleyball team.
Cassie joined as part of Team Impact, a national program that pairs children diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness with a college athletic team. The goal is to tackle the social and emotional isolation these children often face because of their illnesses.
Coach Heather Hayes said Cassie has a full uniform and sits on the bench with the team whenever she can make it to games. Even though she will never serve or spike the ball, she’s a valued member of the team, who contributes to its athletes’ success.
“I’ve seen some players who are quieter and more behind-the-scenes step up and be leaders in different ways, as we plan activities with Cassie,” she said. “I love seeing them interested in something that is bigger than themselves, and bigger than volleyball. It makes me very proud of them.”
Cassie’s mother, Kelly Batic, said being part of the team has made a big difference for her.
“I’ve seen huge growth,” she said. “She’s kind of shy, but she’s really blossomed. She has gained a lot of courage in herself with the girls. They encourage her so much, and really care about the relationship they have with her. I’ve seen her self-esteem grow. She’s not afraid to put herself out there now. She loves being on the team.”
She said Cassie, who is homeschooled, has hidden disabilities, including a connective tissue disorder, asthma, and a heart arrhythmia. She’s kept a positive attitude, despite the pain she faces, and being barred from team sports because she can’t risk injury.
Being part of the team motivates her daughter to keep moving on days she’d rather stay home.
“She says it’s game day, and she will sit on the bench and do cheers with the girls, even when she’s in pain,” said Batic, from Marion. “Before, she wouldn’t have had that drive to be part of something. We’ve seen that a lot in the short time we’ve been part of Team Impact. It means a lot to know she has the girls’ support. They text her and call her just out of the blue. It’s not just a relationship on the court, it’s off the court as well.”
Cassie has become the team’s number one fan, and even convinced her mother to drive them to Sioux City, Iowa for the national tournament week in April 2021.
“To make that trip and have her experience the national tournament as part of the team was just awesome,” Hayes said.
Her teammates say she sets an example for them.
“She’s one of the strongest kids I’ve ever met, and I’m so proud to be her teammate,” said sophomore Jocelyn Hack. “I couldn’t imagine the team without Cassie. She has taught us all a valuable lesson on how to smile every day, no matter what the circumstances.”
Junior Sidney Gerig said having Cassie on the team gives them a bigger reason to play than just for themselves.
“We can see that Cassie looks up to us, but I don’t think she realizes how much we look up to her,” she said.
Cassie adds energy and joy to practices, said sophomore Audrey Strawsma.
“We love to see her getting involved with the team, our cheers, and many of our team bonding activities,” she said. “She’s brought us closer as a family, and given us something bigger than ourselves to play for, and we are very grateful Team Impact paired her with us.”
Cassie is IU Kokomo’s third Team Impact player. Hope Satterfield, Kokomo, was the first Team Impact athlete on campus, joining the soccer team. Hope’s brother, Thomas Satterfield, is part of the baseball team.
Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.