Six-year-old Carter Ankeny, Chapman baseball’s youngest teammate, died Oct. 8 from leukemia. His friends and fellow athletes say Carter’s vivacity and love for baseball continues to inspire them – on and off the field.
“Baseball is a game of failure,” said junior infielder Andrew Mendonca. “We lose a lot, but whenever we would look over and see Carter there, it would put everything into perspective. He made us better people and better players and revived our love for the game.”
Chapman’s baseball team met Carter through Team Impact, a program that pairs children who have life-threatening and chronic illnesses with college sports teams. After signing on to the Chapman baseball team in spring 2016, Carter became the team’s “good luck charm,” cheering them on at games and running drills with the other players at practice.
“The team actually met his family first,” Mendonca said. “I shook his dad’s hand, then his mom’s, but then we look(ed) around and Carter didn’t stop to say, ‘Hi,’ to any of us. He sped past everyone and immediately started running circles on the field.”
When Carter first joined the team, he was in the process of a three-and-a-half year treatment for leukemia. Even though he was undergoing chemotherapy, Carter and his family participated in almost every Thursday baseball practice.
“If you were a spectator and just saw him on the sidelines, you would have never thought he had cancer,” said head coach Scott Laverty. “He was so full of energy.”
When Carter attended games, players said his passion for baseball was contagious.
“(Before meeting Carter,) the game became more about competition and less about the love of the sport,” said junior outfielder Trevor Willits. “Carter was just there because he loved it. He helped remind us what was really important.”
His teammates also said Carter had a way of seeing the positive in almost any situation.
“When he lost his hair, he said it was OK because it would make him a better baseball player,” Willits said. “Without the wind resistance, he could run faster. He was always optimistic.”
Carter’s leukemia relapsed in July 2016. Though they were “heartbroken,” his teammates remained dedicated to be there alongside him.
“It hit me when Andrew and I let Carter shave our heads,” Willits said. “I saw him that day and he just looked so much different than he had when we met him. Cancer had consumed so much of his life already and now he had to start again from scratch.”
Since Carter could not attend school, the team became the center of his life.
“His mom told us he would go around the hospital telling everyone about his teammates,” Willits said. “Whenever we were around, his energy spiked.”
Since Carter’s death, the team’s bond with his parents and sister, has strengthened, Willits said.
“They’re not getting rid of us yet,” he said. “We loved him like a brother.”
Carter’s family has a GoFundMe donation page, and they also recommend that those who want to help can donate blood in his memory.
“They want Carter to somehow continue helping other people even after he has passed,” Mendonca said.
Laverty said that Carter had a positive impact on the team.
“Team Impact is the best decision I ever made for the team,” Laverty said. “We all thought we were going to change Carter’s life, but I think he changed us even more. He’s still our teammate.”