MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Macalester College’s football program has had a breakthrough season and a very special fall.

The Scots are winning games, but the season has turned into a different kind of education – one on life.

They drafted 4-year-old Caleb Maaske to join the Scots. It’s part of a program called Team Impact, where kids that have a disability align with a team.

Caleb is challenged with an incurable brain dysfunction that creates balance issues and constant pain.

Complete with his own jersey, he connects with his new teammates. Caleb’s mother, Rachael Maaske, says it helps him to forget about his condition for a while.

“One day at a time. It’s definitely difficult, you know, waking up and all of a sudden he’s struggling to breath and not expecting it, not having any warning signs,” Rachael said. “Him waking up and crying from being in a lot of pain.”

Macalester safety Forest Redlin says Caleb’s time with the team is a great distraction for the boy.

“We were told that potentially a lot of his life so far, in the four short years, has been just a whole lot of pain,” Redlin said. “And that’s one thing, personally, that I have yet to see in Caleb at all. I’ve only seen, at the times that we’ve been with him, just this energy, this joy, this love of life.”

At the Halloween day practice, Caleb came dressed as a Ninja Turtle with his 6-year-old brother and best friend, Elijah. They play together there and at home.

“When we get ready for bath time, we play karate,” Elijah said.

When Caleb’s playing, he forgets he’s in pain, and his new teammates allow him to focus on something else.

“I like to play with them, running around with them,” Caleb said.

Macalester defensive back Konnor Fleming says the team is there for the Maaske family whenever they need it.

“That’s really what’s most important,” Fleming said. “That’s the mission of Team Impact.”

Because the truth is while they look so normal, it has taken a village and more to deal with the daily issues.

“I’ve definitely had very dark moments, especially when he has a hard time,” Rachael said. “But I think definitely our faith has really helped us, our church has been amazing.”

And this connection with this football team is teaching this family that they can face adversity, then still choose a sense of optimism.

“There’s always hope,” said Caleb’s father, Chad Maaske. “There’s always something better. Even though there’s struggles, there’s something to look forward to.”

Because there are days that take you to the near unbearable, and you learn that’s alright.

“It’s OK for me to fall apart as long as I don’t let it keep me down,” Rachael said. “And try my best to not let him see it affect him.”

The “other” effect is with the players they have touched, probably without knowing it.

“There’s a lot that can be taken away from this experience for both sides,” Redlin said.

Caleb’s condition might not change, but an attitude can. And a love for a son is constant, a gift that reminds you no matter the circumstances, you are blessed.

“He is a constant joy,” Rachael said. “He’s so happy, and he’ll just look at me, ‘Mommy, I love you.'”

The Maaskes are now expecting their third child.

Macalester will play Wisconsin Whitewater on Saturday.

Mike Max