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Signing Day is Extra Special for Local Youngster

by Brad Muller

Signing day is a big moment for young student-athlete, but for Brantley McQueen, a nine-year-old from West Columbia who recently had to have his pancreas removed due to a rare medical condition, having a signing day with the South Carolina Swimming and Diving team was extra special.

“He was born with a bad pancreas, but we didn’t find out until he was about three and half years old,” said Ashlee McQueen, Brantley’s mother. “He got really sick and ended up in the hospital. We found out he had mutated genes which caused pancreatitis and the only real cure was to have it removed. He would have bad flair ups several times a year where he can’t eat, and when he does, he just vomits anytime food is around.”

Brantley “signed” with the South Carolina swim team last weekend as part of a nationwide effort through Team IMPACT, which matches children facing serious illness or disability with college sports teams, in an effort to create a long-term, life-changing experience for everyone involved.

“We talk so much as a team about grit and perseverance, and seeing how he and his family handled all that he’s been through, it’s really inspiring.”
Paige Collins  . 

“It means a lot to us,” said South Carolina junior swimmer Paige Collins, who is studying sociology. “It means a lot to see him smile that much. I know how much it means to him and his family because we’ve had the chance to really get to know him over the last year or so. We talk so much as a team about grit and perseverance, and seeing how he and his family handled all that he’s been through, it’s really inspiring.”

Brantley had surgery last May to take out his pancreas and put the pancreatic islets in his liver so that it would produce insulin in the hopes he won’t be completely a Type 1 diabetic.

“The entire swim team has been great,” McQueen said. “When he had his surgery, they made him a giant sign, and two of the swimmers wrote him a Hebrew blessing on it. Every time we’re there, they all walk right up to him. They’ve made him a ‘goody pack’ to take with him when he went for surgery. On his signing day, they got him a whole bunch of apparel. For kids that age to take that much interest in a little boy, it’s pretty amazing!”

Ashlee McQueen found out about Team IMPACT through Facebook and signed up for the program. Several months later, the family was matched up with Gamecock Swimming and Diving. He was able to meet with the team frequently over the last couple of years.

“From day one they have been absolutely amazing,” McQueen said. “The first practice we showed up to, everyone knew who he was and walked right up to him. It was really cool.”

Brantley enjoys sports, but it hasn’t been easy for him to participate.

“We tried soccer last year, but every time he started running, he would get sick,” McQueen said. “His stomach would start hurting. But now, he started flag football in March, and he loves that!”

The McQueens and the Gamecocks are proud to have each other as teammates.

“This really means a lot to me and to our team,” Collins said.

“My family is born and bred Georgia fans,” Ashlee McQueen said with a laugh. “He was a little unsure at first, but now he says he’s a little bit more of a Gamecock fan than a Georgia fan. We’re perfectly OK with that, and we might feel that way, too!”