Terrapins, young fan lifting both their spirits

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK - Gloria Friedgen's most immediate goal was to provide a memorable, spirit-boosting outing for a Howard County boy with kidney cancer.

The wife of football coach Ralph Friedgen believed that Cole Sterry - an ebullient, sports-loving 7-year-old named for Maryland's Cole Field House - would get a charge out of hanging out with Terrapins football players during a sunny afternoon practice in September.

She didn't know the relationship between the boy and the team would extend beyond a single day's practice and into the regular season and beyond.

She couldn't have predicted that Cole would be invited to five home games, that he would be presented a game ball after a victory and that he would bounce his tiny body up and down with celebrating players in the locker room.

Or that one player, running back Da'Rel Scott, would form an attachment with Cole, carrying him across the field in one arm after a game, posting the boy's photo on his locker, calling to check up on him before chemotherapy treatments and visiting his home more than once to chat and play video games.

"Even though he has a father and mother, I want to make sure I'm there for him," said Scott, whose own father left the family when he was about Cole's age.

"I just have a certain connection to him," the sophomore said.

All this left Gloria Friedgen feeling a little better about a season that didn't end on the field the way she and her husband had hoped. The Terps, who finished the regular season 7-5, play Nevada on Tuesday in the Humanitarian Bowl.

"I'm really pleased with how he [Cole] affected our team," she said. "Football is just a small part of life, but your education is beyond what happens on the field, and I'm pleased our boys understand that."

Cole, who lives in West Friendship, was diagnosed in June with Wilms' tumor, a kidney cancer primarily affecting children. He had a kidney removed and has undergone more than 31 weeks of chemotherapy to battle the Stage 4 disease. His mother, Melanie Sterry, said the prognosis is favorable.

Gloria Friedgen knows Melanie and her husband, Wade, general managers of an auto dealership. They all agreed Cole - who loves baseball, basketball, soccer and football - would love to greet players as they practiced for the Sept. 20 Eastern Michigan game. Dahlia Levin, an academic support specialist for the team, crafted a note to alert the players of Cole's arrival.

"His mother says he is a HUGE Terps fan and that allowing him to come 'Be a Terp' for an afternoon will lift his spirits," Levin wrote. "Just be yourselves and I am sure you will make his day."

Once Cole arrived, everyone seemed to act like kids.

Inside Byrd Stadium, Cole - wearing white football pants and an oversized red Terps jersey - grabbed a football and ran the length of the field. Some players tumbled to the grass as if they were bouncing off his small frame.

The players' favorite moment was when he completed his run with a furious spike in the end zone.

"Watching the guys practice, I didn't know how exciting that would be," Melanie Sterry said. "But once he got to play, that was something he could communicate with.

"It has made this whole season for us amazing. It just has helped him. He's part of something, and he feels it. It's a part of his life now."

The boy became part of Maryland's season, too.

After the Eastern Michigan game, Scott walked off the field with Cole tucked in his right arm. In the locker room, with "WIN" painted in red above the door, Ralph Friedgen handed Cole a football. Cole started the Maryland fight song and counted off the team's wins by yelling: "1, 2, 3!" The moment was captured on Terrapins Rising, the team's reality television show.

Scott later visited Cole several times. After a recent practice, Scott stopped in the Gossett Team House and asked Levin when the next chemotherapy session was so that he could call the boy beforehand.

Said Scott, raised by his mother and other relatives and mentors in an apartment near Philadelphia: "I just feel as though I can be a part of his life."

Melanie Sterry described her son's bond with Scott as "genuine and real."

"It's just such an innocent thing," she said. "This is a big, older friend who happens to play on the Terps. He came into our lives, and he wants to be here. I don't think this is a passing thing. I think Da'Rel is going to be part of our lives forever."

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