He swung the golf club and missed the ball — an acceptable mistake on his first day of practice, right?

“I learned what you call it when you don’t hit the ball,” 9-year-old Manasseh Crum said. “It’s called a practice swing.”

Manasseh looked at the golf ball in front of him and lined his feet up for another swing. He raised the oversized club and this time around, the ball shot straight into the simulator on the wall.

“Now that was no practice swing,” head coach Mike Fleck said to his newest member.

Manasseh, a Muncie local, became a member of the Ball State men’s golf team Dec. 13 when he signed the official document to join the program.

Manasseh’s addition to the men’s golf family was made possible through Team IMPACT, a national non-profit organization that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with collegiate athletic programs in hopes of forming a positive future for both the children and athletes.

In an almost life-long battle, Manasseh was diagnosed with Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) by his pediatrician when he was eight months old and has been treated for it since he was three and a half. For about six years now, Manasseh goes through his everyday routine with flaring fingers and toes. 

Manasseh can now be found at the Earl Yestingsmeier Golf Center putting golf balls and hanging out with his new teammates and coaches.

“It’s been fun having him around,” Fleck said. “He’s an inspiration and he’s connected with the guys, and we’re learning a lot by being around him and his family, too. Hopefully we’re providing kind of a similar experience to him — like learning the game of golf and what our guys do.”

Fleck, now in his 20th season with Ball State men’s golf, is happy with his program’s decision to get involved with Team IMPACT.

“It was actually my assistant, Tyler Ostrom, who first reached out to Team IMPACT to see about establishing a relationship,” Fleck said. “UIndy men’s golf team has a relationship with a youth with Team IMPACT, so we wanted to get involved too. [Ostrom] was the one who inquired about reaching out.”

Fleck and Ostrom, a graduate assistant coach in his second season with the golf team, made a decision that had the potential to change a little boy’s life, and according to Manasseh’s mother Jennifer Crum, it did. 

“It’s just really touching to us that the golf team would be willing to reach out to a kid they don’t know that’s having some difficulties,” Crum said. “We already feel really supported and I can already see how happy Manasseh is and it’s only been a month.”

When it comes to Manasseh’s role on the golf team, practicing the sport is only half of what he can expect for the spring season. He not only has 12 college mentors, but also a brand new support system.

“I like coming here,” Manasseh said. “Everybody is special and unique, and everybody is capable of doing different things. It’s not every day that there is a kid my age that gets to join a team like this — a golf team.”

Manasseh receives much more than the support he gets on the greens or the opportunity to attend a Ball State basketball game and volleyball match with his teammates.

When the golf team found out Manasseh was collecting toys for the prize closet at his infusion center in Fort Wayne, team members put together a gift card so he could buy more toys for the drive. Manasseh and his family visit the infusion center once a month where he receives medication for his arthritis, sometimes even chemotherapy. 

“He thought that was the most amazing thing,” Crum said. “Through the golf team, he was able to bless other kids. That was really special to us and to the infusion center.”

While this opportunity of becoming a team member has already affected Manasseh’s life, the same can be said for this group of college athletes. In just one month, Manasseh and his family have left an impact on players like freshman Miles Jena.

“I was there on his signing day and it was honestly cooler than my signing day,” Jena said. “It was a really cool experience to give him something special like that. It felt awesome for me, so it must have felt special for him, too.”

Jena, a freshman from Middletown, Ohio, is in his first season with the team. He thinks having Manasseh around will benefit the guys in more ways than one.

“I think he gives us some perspective,” Jena said during Manasseh’s first practice. “We’re all Division I athletes, so we kind of grew up playing our sport in a little sports bubble. Sometimes I don’t think we got to look outside and see that other people face different challenges than we do and that we’re pretty blessed to be in the position we’re in.”

It didn’t take long for the Ball State golf members to see the light that Manasseh brings to the program every day. In fact, he doesn’t do it all by himself. Along with Jennifer and his father Randall Crum, Manasseh’s entire family is now involved with the program. At his first practice, he was accompanied by his four younger brothers: Cassius, 8, Azariah, 6, Caedmon, 1 and Jairus, 1. 

Another admirable trait Manasseh adds to the Cardinal roster is his positivity. While living a life full of pain in his fingers and toes, Manasseh doesn’t often complain about it, no matter how excruciating it may be.

“He has always been a really positive little guy,” Jennifer said. “He’s not happy that he has arthritis, but he sees it as an opportunity to get to know other kids and help them through their arthritis struggles. 

“It can be really painful, and a lot of kids struggle with it. I think since he’s had it since he was an infant, that he doesn’t recognize the pain very often. We have to watch for signs of it because he doesn’t recognize it’s happening a lot of times.”

With the addition of Manasseh and his family, the Ball State men’s golf program has a lot to look forward to in its 2018 season. The Cardinals will continue to practice and form new relationships while preparing for the new season at the brand new complex. 

When it comes to relationships off the green, Manasseh and his teammates will continue to attend other Ball State sporting events, go out to dinner and bond in anyway they can.

“We’re just looking to have him be as much a part of the program as our everyday guys,” Fleck said. “Hopefully he continues to learn a little more about golf and enjoy his time with us, and I know we’ll enjoy our time with him. I know we look forward to learning more about his condition and maintaining a relationship with him.”

But for Manasseh, his golf career is only
getting started.

“I’m learning how to golf now and it’s getting easier as I go,” Manasseh said. “I can’t wait to be real, real good.”  

Contact Kara Biernat with comments at karabiernat@gmail.com or on Twitter at @karabiernat.