La Roche College Soccer Team Scores Big with a Five-Year Old Battling Leukemia

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By: Paula Green

Sometimes a chance meeting can spark a special friendship.  Such was the case this past April, when La Roche College sophomore and soccer goalie Conner Hagins, 20, of Johnstown, Pa encountered five year-old Leo Zambori of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.

The two met at the oncology ward at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.  Hagins was visiting the hospital during his Cuddles for Kids second Kickin’ it With the Kids event.  It’s an organization that Hagins founded at a young age.

“My Dad had to have an emergency double bypass when I was nine years old. He received a teddy bear (cardiac bear) for him to hold while he coughed to protect the staples in his chest.  I was curious why he got a stuffed animal.  After talking with a nurse and finding out they don’t provide a toy for every patient, I believed I could change that, and that’s why I created Cuddles for Kids.  Since its inception in 2006, CFK has donated over $430,000 in toys and issued over $16,000 in grants,” Hagins remarked.

While Hagins was at the oncology ward he discovered that Leo, who is a leukemia patient, is a big soccer fan.  Hagins and his La Roche soccer teammates (the Redhawks) invited Leo to be their honorary captain during their Oct. 22 games against Penn State-Behrend.  In addition to having Leo serve as the captain, the Redhawk players wore “I Wear Gold for Leo” t-shirts during their warm-ups.  Members of the men’s and women’s squads sold game day shirts.  Proceeds from this event went to Leo’s family to help with his care.

“Leo has really made a difference in my life. Our families have become good friends since our first meeting at Children’s back in April. It’s awesome to have Leo around, he lifts everyone’s spirits.  He’s part of the team, to see the smile he has when we are warming up and playing is what it’s all about.  It makes you appreciate being able to play the game you love and appreciate your health and the ability to know that we are making a difference in his life like he is in ours. All the guys love having him around! He’s got some soccer skills himself” added Hagins.

The Zambori family, including father Chad, mother Natalie and older brother Nolan, accompanied Leo to the game and cheered him on.

In addition to his work with Cuddles for Kids and serving as goalie, Hagins is involved with other activities.  He is a member of the LaRoche Roller Hockey Team.  He is the director of Community Service for LaRoche Student Government and social chair for the National Society of Leadership and Success and a Brand Ambassador for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For more information on how you can help Cuddles for Kids, visit www.cuddlesforkids.net.