SPRINGFIELD TWP. The University of Akron men’s soccer team has become a community favorite throughout Summit, Stark and Portage counties in recent seasons.
The Zips’ run of success, having made the NCAA tournament every season for more than a decade and won a national title in 2010, has built a strong fan base that shows up regularly at Cub Cadet field on the UA campus to see their winning brand of soccer. But for one local family, the Zips are fan favorites for a different reason.
Maverick Westover is 11 years old and attends Schrop Intermediate School. In many ways, he’s a typical 10-year-old boy, enjoying being with his friends at school, sports and being active whenever possible. What differentiates him from his peers is that he suffers from Common Variable Immune Deficiency. That means he is missing parts of his immune system and gets sick easily, as well as requiring IVIG infusions every four weeks.
The infusions provide an antibody replacement to compensate for the missing parts of his immune system, but even with the infusions, sometimes his immune system can’t hold up and he gets sick prior to his next treatment because the antibodies wear off.
It makes for challenging days for Maverick and his family and they’ve been dealing with the battle since he was six months old. Whether it’s side effects migraines, sleepiness and joint pain or infections, Maverick’s life is more physically challenging than those of his peers. Soccer has been one element of his life that consistently brightens up his tougher days, with his three older brothers and father all playing the sport in high school.
“Maverick has always loved soccer,” his mother Cristal Westover said. “His dad played his whole life growing up and for Tallmadge High School (and) his two older brothers played for Springfield High School and he has a brother currently playing soccer there.”
Prior to the current college soccer season, the family was linked up with the UA program through Team Impact, a national organization that seeks to improve the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. The organization matches children and their families with local college sports teams and gives the children a chance to spend time with the teams at games and practices.
In mid-August, the Zips held a special event at which head coach Jared Embick announced that they had signed Maverick to a national letter of intent to be a part of the team this season.
"We are excited about Maverick joining our program this season," Embick said of the signing. "He embodies a lot of characteristics that we look for in an Akron soccer player. The two that stood out most to me were his character and toughness. If those character traits can rub off on our team, we will have a much better chance to achieve our goals this season."
Maverick has become a regular sight at UA home games, wearing the custom jersey the team gave him at his signing with his first name on the back of the No. 10 uniform. He circulates around the field, interacting with players who are always happy to see him.
“I love watching them practice and going to the team dinners,” Maverick said. “I don't have a favorite player. They are all my favorite and so fun to be around. I love when they come watch me play soccer.”
The support at his games and away from the pitch means even more because Maverick is sometimes forced to miss large chunks of the school calendar due to his illness or to attend his treatment sessions. His mother noted that it takes anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 plasma donors to make one bottle of IVIG, so the family has become advocates for plasma donation along the way. The treatment can cost as much as $12,000 a month, but each infusion is what stands between Maverick and constant illness.
“It is hard when I miss things because I get infusions or get sick a lot,” Maverick said. “I also hate being poked to get the IV in, sometimes it hurts bad.”
Having a new team to stand behind him is an encouragement for Maverick, who says his favorite part of soccer is learning new moves on the field. He remembers thinking that soccer would be a lot of fun to play before he started and so far, he’s been proven right.
There are still the different extra steps he must take at school that make life a bit more complicated, but mostly they entail being more cautious than other students to practice good hygiene. More thorough hand washing and making sure he has hand sanitizer with him at all times are two important tasks and Maverick is more likely than other children to contract the different colds and flus that pass through a school during the course of the year.
He also has severe gastric reflux and allergies, which his allergies most usually turn into full blown sinus infections, but according to his mother, the family does its best to keep those concerns on the back burner and allow Maverick to live as normal a life as possible - which is where soccer comes in.
“We try to not worry and think about those things,” Cristal said of the health complications.
Seeing Maverick on the pitch at an Akron game, balls zipping around and green grass stretching out in every direction,
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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