SU men’s hoops program welcomes local 12 year old to squad

Carson Bard signs with Hornets through partnership with Team IMPACT

Carson Bard, 12, center, speaks with Shenandoah University basketball player Seth Myers, left, and head coach Adam Walsh, right, during a news conference at the university on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University head men’s basketball coach Adam Walsh has been on the job for five months, but he may have just landed the type of recruit that leaves a lasting mark on a program.

Carson Bard won’t be filling up the stat sheet when the Hornets hit the court for their first game of the 2017-18 season next month. In fact, you won’t see his name in any box score this winter. His impact, instead, will run far deeper than basketball.

Carson is a 12-year-old boy who resides in Middletown and has lived his entire life battling a list of medical problems that has reached 27 different diagnoses. On Wednesday, he officially became a Shenandoah Hornet when he scrawled his signature on an NCAA Division III celebratory signing letter during a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Brandt Student Center on Shenandoah’s campus.

His signing was the result of a partnership between the school and Team IMPACT, a national organization whose mission is to join children such as Carson with college athletic programs in order to provide benefits to all involved.

Through the program, Carson receives the camaraderie and support system of a team environment, and Walsh said SU’s men’s basketball team stands to learn plenty from its newest member, as well.

Carson Bard, 12, left, stares down Shenandoah University head coach Adam Walsh during a news conference at the university on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We’re probably gonna learn more from him in his daily life and his struggles that he handles, the adversity that he overcomes and deals with on a day-to-day basis, going to school and how he lives. Our guys will learn from that just as much, if not more, than they’ll learn from us just with what we do as a basketball program,” Walsh said during the news conference, addressing a small crowd that included Carson’s parents, Charlie and Denise, his 13-year-old sister Delaney, and members of SU’s men’s hoops program.

“We are super, super excited to have Carson join us,” Walsh said. “He’s gonna jump right in and be a big part of our core, our team values. We know what he stands for, and we’re excited to have him.”

The soft-spoken Carson, who was flanked by Walsh and SU senior guard/forward Seth Myers at the news conference with his service dog Vito lying at his feet, slipped into an oversized red No. 0 Shenandoah basketball jersey after his signing and said he was “excited” when he first learned that he’d be joining the Hornets ahead of their upcoming season.

As of Wednesday’s news conference, Carson had yet to take part in any organized team activities (SU held its first practice of the season on Sunday), though he has already built a budding relationship with Myers and junior point guard A.J. Cabbagestalk.

Those two players have been visiting Carson at his home for the better part of the last month, during which the trio has spent much of their time playing video games.

Carson Bard, 12, smiles after receiving a team jersey. Rich Cooley/Daily

Carson said playing Halo 4 against Myers and Cabbagestalk has been his favorite part of their interactions so far. Carson proclaimed himself as the best Halo player of the three – Myers backed up the statement – and he threw a friendly jab at Cabbagestalk when he revealed that he kept defeating the SU junior in head-to-head battles in the sci-fi video game.

“Nobody knew where I was and I was standing in an obvious spot,” Carson said, drawing laughter from those in attendance.

Walsh, who cited Carson’s loving and caring attitude as some of the 12-year-old’s core values that mirror those of SU’s basketball program, said Carson would become more involved in team activities following Wednesday’s news conference.

That’ll include sitting on the bench alongside his new teammates during games, Walsh said, and participating in practices whenever Carson is willing and able.

“I want him to have the opportunity really just to hang out and be with our guys. He may give a few locker room talks that he doesn’t know about yet either,” said Walsh, prompting a stare-down from Carson, who admitted he wasn’t too keen on the idea of giving halftime pep talks.

“But (we want to give Carson) the chance just to talk to guys and tell them about how he’s going through his day and the stuff he’s dealing with. I hope our adversities as a team, that he’ll be able to pick up something from us, too.”

Carson is well versed in overcoming adversity at this point in his life. Denise Bard said her son suffers from what is referred to in the medical field as “rare genetics,” adding that “we know he has 27 separate diagnoses, but what it all means is still new to us and we’re still learning.”

She said Carson has been diagnosed with autism and a mitochondrial disorder that greatly inhibits her son’s energy level, to the point where walking for long periods of time, and even simple tasks such as writing, becomes impossible. He also suffers from epileptic seizures, Denise said, and experiences tremors and other movement disorders.

She said that none of her son’s diagnoses are curable, adding that sometimes the medical conditions “just keep coming.”

“And you just don’t know when you go to the doctor if you’re gonna leave with something else or if we’re just maintaining,” Denise said. “But through all of it, it’s who he is. He’s great. He faces a lot of stuff. He doesn’t know any better. For most kids who would know better they would be scared and not want to do a lot of things. But … he doesn’t know anything outside all of that.

“He faces it and we just go along,” she added. “I mean Carson is Carson to us. That’s who he is. I think that Seth and A.J. have proven that, it’s just Carson. They don’t see him as a disability. They see him as Carson. It really has been nice.”

Carson has undergone two surgeries, his mother said, at least 14 or 15 endoscopies and colonoscopies for various gastrointestinal issues and has had “countless” hospital stays at facilities in Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. (Charlie Bard served in the Air Force and the Bard family had moved around the country frequently before settling in the Stephens City area last year.)  Charlie Bard added that Carson was selected for the Rare Genomes Project being conducted by The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachussetts.

Carson had his first surgical procedure at 11 months old, Denise said, and he underwent brain surgery for a Chiari malformation at age 5. Dr. Ben Carson, currently the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, performed the latter procedure in 2010, Denise Bard said.

“He was at a crucial point where … it was life or death,” Denise said of her son’s brain surgery. “He could either not wake up at all or wake up paralyzed. … So when we signed on with Dr. Carson, I mean, it was immediate. He just put you at ease.”

In the seven years since the brain surgery, Carson Bard has developed an affinity for basketball. He even tried out wheelchair basketball while the Bards lived in Nebraska, competing for a team called the “Red Dogs.”

“I like kind of competing against other basketball teams,” Carson said of his favorite part about playing basketball.

Carson’s athletic endeavors have been limited to the hardwood, however. His father said they tried soccer – without much luck – when Carson was younger, and baseball was out of the question due to his son’s condition.

The Bards hope that Carson’s newest venture with Shenandoah University and Team IMPACT – which took off and gained steam in a span of only a couple months – offers him the team experience that he hasn’t had the luxury to be a part of for most of his life.

“It gives him a chance to have some mentors outside of the family,” Charlie Bard said. “It’s not like he’s gonna be able to go out and play on a Little League team. His hand-eye coordination, his spatial awareness doesn’t really lend to that. But it’s gonna get him exercising, which is what he wants. It’s gonna give him some interaction with other people.”

Charlie said he’s not sure what else to expect from his family’s relationship with Shenandoah University, being that it’s a new experience for the Bards and the school, but he added that Walsh has already discussed with Carson and his family how he thinks the partnership would “evolve” as the season goes along.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Denise Bard said. “And again, it kind of brings us closer to the community, and when you live in an area that you’ve put roots down, I think that really is important.”