Assistant kindergarten teacher Gina Murray has a message that she instills in all her students: You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.

The Union mother of four preaches it to her own children, too. It has served them well, especially her 8-year-old son, Alex, who suffers from chronic renal insufficiency disease. Alex’s kidneys don’t grow, and function at only about 30 percent.

“[His kidneys] really haven’t grown since he’s been born, so the more he grows, his kidneys aren’t really keeping up with his body,” says Gina.

That means in the next couple of years Alex will need a kidney transplant, she says.

“Having only 30 percent of his kidney function, he is tired a lot,” says Gina. “And because he doesn’t want anybody to know he’s different, he will do his very best at school and nobody knows anything is wrong with him, and that’s exhausting in itself.”

But the disease hasn’t stopped Alex from becoming what he wants. “He likes the whole idea of being a part of a team,” says Gina.

Although the disease saps him of his strength and prevents him from actually playing sports with his peers, Alex has taken his mother’s message to heart and is not letting his disease stop him from being a member of a team.

And not just any team.

Alex is an official member of the Northern Kentucky University baseball team. Alex recently signed a national letter of intent with the team thanks to a nonprofit organization called Team IMPACT.

The organization’s goal is to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic diseases by matching children across the country with college athletic teams.

Team IMPACT children are drafted onto the team and become an official member of the team from draft day to graduation. Just as the child joins the athletic team, the student athletes join the child’s support team.

The Murrays learned about the organization last year after attending a camp in Maine for children and families with life-threatening and chronic illnesses. On the 17-hour drive home from the camp, Gina says they started checking out the organization’s website. When they got home they filled out the application.

“It was pretty exciting when they called,” says Gina. “We’re a baseball family.”

Northern Kentucky University Head Baseball Coach Todd Asalon says the organization then contacted him. “We’re really big believers in the baseball program, and as an athletic department, in giving back to the community,” says Asalon.

“And him being a local kid, right up there in Union, I thought it was a no-brainer,” he says. “I thought absolutely it’s something we want to get involved with, and we jumped all over it.”

Not only did the NKU baseball team conduct an official signing ceremony, but Alex now has his own jersey and locker with a nameplate next to the other members of the baseball team. He is invited to participate in all the baseball team’s activities, Asalon says.

So what do the players think of having Alex as their teammate?

“Oh, they love him,” says Asalon. “He shows up and he kind of takes all the attention. Our guys are really good with kids, too. They treat him like a little brother, like a teammate, so it’s just fun when he’s around.”

And Alex enjoys his teammates on the baseball team, especially when they attended one of his school events.

“He told another little boy, ‘Yeah, they’re my teammates. I play for NKU baseball,’” says Gina.

Of course the other boy didn’t believe Alex, she says. “He took him over to introduce them and it was a pretty proud moment for him.”

Asalon is also proud to have Alex as part of the baseball team. Not only is the 15-year NKU (21 overall) coach proud, he is humbled by what he has learned from Alex.

“People say, ‘Coach, you guys really do so much for him.’ But at the end of the day [Alex] does way more for me personally than I ever do for him,” says Asalon.

“I’ve got my own son who plays college baseball and if he goes 0-for-4 or has a couple of errors it just isn’t that bad. It’s not that big of a deal anymore. So, it kind of puts life into perspective.”

Asalon hopes his team learns from its interaction with Alex. “Appreciate what you have and take full advantage of what God’s given us, especially health wise and talent wise,” says Asalon.

The Murray family plans to attend more of the NKU baseball team’s activities when the weather warms up and the team starts practicing in the afternoon, says Gina. They also plan to attend some of the home games.

And then there’s the matter of spring break for the second-grader at Erpenbeck Elementary School. “When I see a schedule, on spring break, if there’s a nice warm place they’re playing, maybe we’ll go there for spring break,” says Gina. “We’ll see.”

Until then, Alex will continue with one of his favorite activities—playing with Legos. He hopes that creating things with Legos will come in handy when he grows up.

“I want to be an inventor,” says Alex.

So does that mean when he grows up he’ll want to invent tools and machines to help baseball players improve their game? That’s not exactly what’s on Alex’s mind.

Right now Alex is focusing on inventing something that will help him with school.

“I want to invent a homework-doing machine so I don’t have to do my homework,” says Alex.

No one doubts Alex will invent that homework-doing machine. That’s because his mom has an incredible message for everyone: You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.