Coming off its MCLA Division 1 National Championship win in May, Michigan State lacrosse made the jump from a marginal tournament team to a nationally-known program. On Dec. 1, as each player received their rings to commemorate the championship season, the Spartans celebrated something equally memorable.
Prior to receiving their rings, the team signed Connor Willimeth to a National Letter of Intent, officially instituting him as a member of the program, as recognized by all 39 players.
Willimeth, a 7-year-old Flushing, Michigan native, was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a disorder affecting the development of certain blood vessels and causing abnormalities in the brain, skin and eyes from birth.
With the coordination of Team Impact, a Boston-based nonprofit that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams, Willimeth was deemed a top 2018 recruit and able to sign with MSU.
“(Becoming part of the team) means everything. It gives him an opportunity to feel like he’s included,” said Connor’s mother, Jill Willimeth.
Sam Tuttle, a junior defensive midfielder for the Spartans and Impact Leadership Team Member, helped coordinate Willimeth’s signing.
“Team Impact says that you need to officially sign them as part of your team just like national recruits do on signing day, and that was something that we’ve always wanted to do,” Tuttle said. “We thought ‘Why not do it here in front of all these people who care about him and support him?’ and I figured this would have been the perfect event to sign him to our team.”
He went on to say that along with Connor’s connection to the team as a whole, his relationship with Connor touches him on a personal level.
“I’m very humbled that I get to hang out with Connor’s family often,” Tuttle said. “That’s something I really enjoy and I think that’s something our team really enjoys.”
After former head coach Cam Holding stepped down following last season, former defensive coordinator D.J. Lubs took over. After he handed each player their ring during the ceremony, the first-year head coach expressed his desire to continue his team’s relationship with Connor.
“It’s all about love in this community, and if we’re able to share that, in our experience with somebody and make their time better, then we should be doing that,” Lubs said. “So (we’re) extremely blessed to have Connor as part of this team and we’re really looking forward to him hanging around a lot more often.”
The newfound relationship between Connor and the team is reciprocal. Lubs argues the team might even enjoy Connor’s presence just as much as Connor does the team’s.
As MSU looks to defend its national title, it continues to use Connor as a source of inspiration.
“He’s a special kid. He got handed some rough cards and he’s smiling the whole time, which really does just bring energy to our team,” Lubs said. “It’s a huge blessing. We rally behind him, he rallies behind us. It’s a give and take."