Luke Rogers, seated in the front row, joined the men’s hockey program as an honorary teammate.
Beverly Schaefer
Tiger teams bond with kids who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses

Thirteen-year-old Luke Rogers sits front and center in the Princeton men’s ice hockey team picture this year, flanked by captains Eric Robinson ’18 and Joe Grabowski ’18.

Rogers, who is from Morganville, N.J., was diagnosed in 2015 with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma mostly seen in children and teenagers. He was paired with Princeton through Team IMPACT, a nonprofit that uses team connections to improve the quality of life for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

“We want great people to be affiliated with Princeton University and Princeton hockey,” said head coach Ron Fogarty. “He has all the characteristics we want in people in our program. We have guys that stick around for four years playing and then become alumni forever. We hope that’s the same thing with Luke — that he’s around here with our guys and is part of our team forever.”

Luke “signed” as the newest Tigers team member in a ceremony Sept. 16, but the team had already started to bond with him over the summer.

“He’s quiet,” Fogarty said. “He’s somewhat reserved. He has a passion for the game of hockey. Our guys were at his game earlier this month. They said he played well. He stuck around after and talked to the guys. He’s a rink rat. He just loves the game; he’s very similar to our guys.”

Rogers is one of a handful of children who have been adopted in recent years by Princeton athletic programs. Men’s basketball, baseball, field hockey, women’s hockey, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, softball, and women’s volleyball all have welcomed children with serious medical conditions on their sidelines.

For the last five years, the men’s soccer team has had a strong connection with Derek Watson, an eighth-grader who has a meningioma that has led to complete ptosis, or drooping of the upper eyelid, of his left eye.

Derek Watson runs through a tunnel of Tigers after one of his soccer games in 2013.
Courtesy The New Jersey Herald/Daniel Freel

“Derek has become very close with a lot of guys that have already graduated and with current players on the team,” said head coach Jim Barlow ’91. “He keeps in touch with the alums and current players on social media. He comes to the games [and] sits on the bench with the guys.”

The players have been there through their young friend’s ups and downs. They drove an hour and a half to storm the field after a healthy Watson scored a goal in a club game; they’ve also visited him when he was sick in the hospital.

“They’re always updated,” said Watson’s mother, Tammy. “Derek tells them everything. They are part of our family.”

Twice in the last five years, the soccer team has organized an intramural tournament to raise funds to help offset Derek’s medical expenses.

“He’s had a big impact on a lot of our guys,” Barlow said, “and vice versa, I think.”

The men’s ice hockey team intends to be just as active with Rogers, who was slated to be the captain in its season opener against Holy Cross Oct. 29. The Tigers will go to his games as well.

“Luke has made an impact with our guys,” Fogarty said. “That they want to be around him and see him be successful — it’s great. You want to be around great people that want to help out others. We have a great bunch of guys here that realize it’s more than just hockey. They want to do great things, and this is one small sample of what they can do.”