In an emotional signing ceremony Thursday, 13-year-old Liv Scheuerell and her 11-year-old sister Kaya, both diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, became honorary members of the Washington women’s basketball team.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Not after 13-year-old Liv Scheuerell and her 11-year-old sister Kaya became honorary members of the Washington women’s basketball team during an emotional signing ceremony Thursday attended by Husky players.
“I would like to thank everyone for being in my heart,” said Liv while sitting next to UW coach Jody Wynn. “And as we run together, all of us become one huge family. Thank you.”
Standing off to the side, Mark and Jennifer Scheuerell, the girls’ parents, held back tears as their daughters delivered eloquent impromptu speeches.
“You did so good,” Wynn whispered as Liv fell into her arms. “I’m so proud of you.”
Jennifer Scheuerell didn’t know what to expect when her daughters, who were diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic developmental disorder, began spending time with the Huskies.
“I didn’t expect that they both would be so overcome that they would be in tears,” Jennifer said. “They’ve been so excited. But I wasn’t really expecting this.”
Team IMPACT, a Boston-based nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams, paired the Scheuerells with the UW women’s basketball team.
For the past few weeks, the girls have been given unfettered access while attending practices, games and team meetings. Their impact has been tangible on a Huskies team off to a surprising 6-3 start.
“It’s not only a very special thing for Kaya and Liv, but it’s an absolute blessing for our program,” Wynn said. “They bring perspective every day. To see how much joy they have in their hearts and the love they have for each other as sisters is absolutely incredible. They just care so much for our players and it’s reciprocated right back.”
At some point, every UW player engaged with the Scheuerells during the 90-minute practice Thursday as their parents, and grandparents Ben and Bev Anson, sat inside an empty Alaska Airlines Arena.
Junior guard Amber Melgoza shared jokes and high-fives with the honorary Huskies. Senior forward Hanna Johnson battled Kaya, who began taking hip-hop dance classes months ago, in an impromptu dance off.
Minutes later, Liv and sophomore forward Khayla Rooks joined in and performed the floss dance to the delight of giggling teammates.
“You guys walked into the gym today and everyone had a smile on their face,” UW senior guard Jenna Moser said. “We’re just thankful that in a short amount of time you guys have already improved the happiness of our team.”
The time with the Huskies has been a happy diversion from a challenging daily routine for the Scheuerells.
According to Williams-Syndrome.org, children with WS tend to struggle with spatial relations, numbers, and abstract reasoning while simultaneously displaying advanced verbal skills, highly social personalities and a passion for music.
“It’s one of these genetic conditions where there are deficits and disabilities, but there’s also gifts,” Jennifer said. “It’s a little bit unique that way.”
Liv, who weighed just 13 pounds on her first birthday, can say ‘Hi, how are you?’ in 10 different languages, Jennifer said.
Williams Syndrome, which is present at birth, affects one in 10,000 people worldwide. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States have WS.
It’s not hereditary and the odds of two siblings with WS is one in 100 million.
“We’re the third known family in the world to have two kids that both have Williams,” Jennifer said.
“So it would seem that UW indeed landed two very unique recruits,” Mark wrote in an email.
The Huskies think so.
During signing ceremony Thursday, Johnson yelled: “Our team just got a whole lot better today.”
Wynn echoed those sentiments.
“Kaya and Liv represent the grit, the fight, the determination, the toughness to go through their battle just as we talk about on the basketball court,” Wynn said. “We’re happy to welcome both young ladies into our women’s basketball family. Today we have a special Husky letter of intent to make it official. That you’re a part of our team.
“You keep fighting and we’re going to fight right alongside both of you. Your spirit and your joy and your love for life is so special. It’s contagious amongst all of us. And we love having you around. This has been such a treat and such a joy and a true blessing for our women’s basketball program. We are so proud of you.”
Liv wore a purple No. 45 Huskies jersey and Kaya donned No. 15 while thanking the Huskies who returned their gratitude with long, loving embraces.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t know they would have an opportunity to talk. I didn’t coach them or prepare them at all. That was just them, which is probably good because I don’t know what I would have told them.
“They just spoke from their hearts. … I know this day is going to stay with them for a really long time.”