The inaugural Sports and Social Justice Symposium took place Friday, April 8. The event featured Springfield graduate Justin Zook, 2008 alum of the college who went on to win three gold medals at the Paralymic Games. After Zook’s presentation, Ava Adamopoulos was presented with the first-ever Tom Waddell Leveling the Playing Field award.
Adamopoulos, a member of the women’s basketball team, was nominated and selected for the relationship she has formed with Lisa Hartley, a 16-year-old from Palmer, Mass. suffering from Type B and Bulky Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hartley was partnered with Springfield through Team IMPACT, a national program based out of Boston that partners kids suffering from chronic illnesses with college athletic teams. Along with women’s basketball, Springfield has Team IMPACT athletes on its football, baseball, and women’s volleyball teams.
“This was definitely something that was totally unexpected,” Adamopoulos said. “With stuff like this, you don’t do it to reap the rewards from it. You do it to make things better, easier for others, and in the process, you have the chance to grow and learn from others and about yourself.
The relationship was not Adamopoulos’ first interaction with people close to her suffering from cancer. Both Adamopoulos’ mother and women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves are cancer survivors. Adamopoulos’ mother had a stem cell transplant right before her freshman year of college, the same procedure that Hartley had a summer ago.
“Growing up, my parents taught me to open myself up to people around me and just to simply enjoy the presence of others,” said Adamopoulos. “There is a mutual level of comfort between Lisa and I that just makes our times together relaxed, easy, and enjoyable, despite her bout with such a terrible illness.”
The award is named after Tom Waddell, a 1959 Springfield graduate and member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Waddell created the Gay Olympic Games (now known as the Gay Games) in 1982, as well as competing in the 1968 Olympics and claiming numerous college records. Waddell competed in gymnastics and track and field, as well as football during his time at Springfield. He is widely considered one of, if not the best, Springfield College athlete of all time.
A commemorative plaque honoring the recipient of the Leveling the Playing Field will be placed in Blake Arena. Beginning next year, the award will feature one Springfield College student-athlete, as well as one local Springfield high school athlete who embodies the same characteristics.
“I don’t think I need an award to validate my relationship and involvement with Lisa and her family,” said Adamopoulos. “I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have been chosen as the recipient of the first award, but I think when you see the level of comfort and ease that Lisa has with our team, that is what really speaks to the validation of our relationship, not an accolade.”