Champions on and off the field

Football teams host parade and hold fundraiser to celebrate Kyle Walter



MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Kyle Walter (middle left) leads the team as they got ready for kickoff in a game from the 2019 season. Walter was diagnosed with the rare condition ADNP, and he has been a champion child with Bowie football since last year.

By Naya Tillisch, James Bowie High School

Kyle Walter, an 11-year-old born with activity-dependent neuroprotective protein (ADNP) syndrome, was adopted by the Bowie football team last year through an organization called Cheyanna’s Champions for Children (CC4C).

Varsity football players organized a parade and fundraiser to raise money for Walter and his family to show their support for him in such a difficult time.

“Kyle was diagnosed with an ultra-rare condition called ADNP syndrome in 2017,” Walter’s mother Tara Walter said. “He and his twin sister are the only two people in the world at this time with their particular mutation on the gene.”

Tara explains the diagnosis took years, but CC4C allowed for them to become “champion children” and join a community in which they could be supported by others with rare conditions.

“We learned about CC4C from a friend of mine the year before they were diagnosed,” Tara said. “Kyle picked the Bowie Football team because he really loved going to the games and cheering for the guys when his sister was with the Silver Stars. Friday nights were something he really looked forward to.”

Varsity senior linebacker Mark Chahda met Kyle last football season through CC4C.

“Kyle was introduced to our team my junior year in the cafeteria during our football period,” Chahda said. “Basically CC4C connects families like Kyle’s with services and a support system.”

Last year, Kyle was very involved with the team and developed good relationships with several students.

“Last year they really worked to make Kyle feel like part of the team,” Tara said. “He got to do the coin toss in the first home game, lead the boys out of the dawg at the start of a game, cheered for him at the run to uplift, surprised him with his own letterman jacket, honored him at the football banquet, and so much more.”

Kyle couldn’t spend time with the football team as much as he did last year due to COVID-19, so the team decided to do something extra special for him.

“We’ve had a run for Kyle as well as a parade,” Chahda said. “I personally kept track of all the money and purchased the gifts we got for Kyle and his little sister.”

Varsity junior right tackle and defensive end Rick Mao also was a leader in organizing the parade and fundraiser for Kyle.

“Mark and I organized everything, collected money to buy him a gift, and made the social media message for him [that spread with the help of] the football team and a lot of students,” Mao said.

The parade had a big turn-out, and the community rallied around Kyle.

“The team decorated our yard and met the parade participants at Bethany Lutheran, where they decorated their cars and then they set off to drive by our house,” Tara said. “There were 40 [or more] cars that drove by that afternoon”

The team was able to raise $10,000 for CC4C and a large sum of money for the Walter family.

“We were able to raise enough money to purchase gift cards for Kyle’s sister, a brand new Xbox, a couple [of] games, and a new headset as well,” Chahda said.

Tara is thankful for the donations and Xbox, for it will allow Kyle to interact with his friends during the pandemic.

“I have loved seeing the team getting so pumped up and cheering for Kyle like he is the MVP of the team,” Tara said. “With his Xbox, Kyle will be able to play some games online with his friends. It gives him a small amount of connection from home, and that is a huge blessing.”

Mao has gained perspective through his experience with Kyle.

“I learned that I am truly blessed to be able to play football and do what I love because a lot of people do not have the same opportunities as I do,” Mao said.

Chadha feels his relationship with Kyle helped him grow significantly as well.

“Understanding and learning about Kyle’s situation really allows you to see the importance of not taking things for granted,” Chahda said. “I am extremely blessed and fortunate compared to some people like Kyle who can’t even leave the house due to COVID-19. For that reason, I felt the need to do something nice for Kyle and his family.”

Both Chahda and Mao are so proud of how the Bowie community has come together to bring Kyle’s family happiness.

“On the behalf of my team and myself, we would all like to thank Kyle’s family for giving us the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Mao said. “Kyle has truly touched all of our hearts [and he has brought] us all closer together and helped make us better young men.”

This story was originally published on The Dispatch on January 12, 2021.