The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

Inaugural Beanpot pingpong tournament brings rival hockey teams together for shared cause

Members+of+the+mens+hockey+teams+at+Northeastern%2C+BC%2C+BU+and+Harvard+pose+for+a+photo+with+their+Team+IMPACT+matches.+The+teams+and+matches+competed+in+the+first+ever+Beanpot+pingpong+tournament+Jan.+8.
Ethan Valery
Members of the men’s hockey teams at Northeastern, BC, BU and Harvard pose for a photo with their Team IMPACT matches. The teams and matches competed in the first ever Beanpot pingpong tournament Jan. 8.

Since its founding in 1952, the annual Beanpot tournament, a college hockey competition between local rivals Northeastern University, Boston University, Boston College and Harvard University, has been well-loved by the city of Boston.

However, Monday, Jan. 8, the four competing men’s hockey teams faced off in a different kind of competition — a pingpong tournament — each with an additional player on their roster: their Team IMPACT matches. Josh Bello (BC), Logan Gatto (BU), Simon Valencia-Devin (Northeastern) and Parker Watson (Harvard) will cheer on their teams from the sidelines at TD Garden come February, but Monday night, they played enthusiastically alongside their teammates with a pingpong paddle in hand. 

Ten-year-old Simon became an honorary teammate of the Northeastern men’s hockey team in 2021 and is now a fan-favorite among the Husky community. Receiving a kidney transplant when he was just one year old, Simon has defied the odds with his optimistic, positive energy toward life. Connected through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization matching children with disability and illness to college sports teams, Simon is supported by not only his family, but over 25 Division I hockey players. From coaching the Northeastern hockey players in pingpong to celebrating on the ice with the team after the 2023 Beanpot win, every interaction is significant for Simon and relatives. 

A member of the Northeastern men’s hockey team engages in a pingpong game. Each hockey team worked to create a supportive environment for the Team IMPACT matches. (Ethan Valery)

“It’s just those little bits of fun that he gets to have because you never know,” said Simon’s mother, Maria Valencia-Devin. “Being transplanted means [being] immunocompromised. So any little something could really escalate so we have to live really carefully. So times like this, it’s a party, other kids are here, the team is here, it’s like a gift for sure.”

The children at Monday’s tournament have been diagnosed with illnesses and conditions from kidney disorders to epilepsy to leukemia, and although each Team IMPACT child’s experience is different, events like these give them all a place to feel included and seen.

“We really try to create environments where the child feels supported, mom and dad feel supported, and siblings feel supported, but in a comfortable way,” said Team IMPACT Executive Director Ryan Irwin. “They’re just one of the guys here. They’re not the kid who’s on Team IMPACT. They’re just out there with the guys, and nobody is giving them extra attention. That’s the hope. We want to normalize what they’re going through.”

These events are valuable for the collegiate athletes as well, bringing together teammates and competitors to support a common good.

“What we provide for student athletes is huge moments in perspective of what’s really important in life because most student athletes spend a majority of their life focused on sport,” Irwin said. “They meet a kid like Simon, who has gone through a lot of adversity in his life, and he’s more optimistic than a lot of these guys after a bad practice or a tough test. They realize they’re fortunate and lucky.”

Although Team IMPACT pairs teams with their matches, it’s up to the athletes and staff to continue to put in that effort — and it’s something they’re excited to do. The pingpong tournament was the brainchild of BU Director of Hockey Operations Doug Friedman, who saw an opportunity to bring together all four Beanpot schools outside of the hockey games.

Simon Valencia-Devin participates in a pingpong game with a hockey player. All four Team IMPACT children and their families have been given front-row seats for the 71st annual Beanpot tournament. (Ethan Valery)

At the event, the children darted around the event space playing pingpong, threw bags for cornhole, tried out the batting cages and spent time with their teammates.

“It’s awesome. We’ve only had Simon with us for a couple years now, and we just keep doing more and more things,” said Northeastern senior forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. “It’s unreal having these four Beanpot schools together like this celebrating a great thing.” 

After each team played six games, a winner was declared. Boston University took home the title of the first-ever Beanpot pingpong tournament champion, and its victory was greeted with an enthusiastic “Go, BU!” from their match, Logan Gatto. 

In just a few short weeks, the four teams’ matches and their families will have a front-row seat to cheer on their teams and watch the 71st annual Beanpot tournament unfold. It’s a meaningful experience for each and every one of them and comes with excitement in so many different ways.

“Listening to the national anthem, seeing everyone put their hands over their hearts, it’s so emotional for [Simon],” Maria Valencia-Devin said. “So he’s actually practicing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to get ready for Beanpot.”

The Beanpot tournament will kick off Feb. 5 at TD Garden, and this year, each team will sport the Team IMPACT logo on their helmets to support the program and have a little bit of their match’s spirit with them out on the ice.

“If you know a kid who has a serious illness or disability, or somebody in the neighborhood or a coworker, let them know what we do because they’re able to help get those kids support,” Irwin said. “It’s a free program. It’s easy to sign up, takes about two minutes, and our staff will reach out to learn more about what that child is going through.”

About the Contributors
Amelia Ballingall, Sports Editor
Amelia Ballingall is a third-year speech language pathology and audiology major. She is sports editor for The News and previously served as deputy sports editor and deputy design editor. She is also Vice President of Membership Development for Delta Phi Epsilon, the social media manager for Speech and Hearing Club, and a Student Success Guide on campus. Amelia is looking forward to another great semester with The News!
Sofia Garrett, Deputy Sports Editor
Sofia Garrett is a second-year journalism and media and screen studies major at Northeastern University. She previously edited her own documentary in London and managed the social media accounts for her town’s local bakery, along with working as the women’s soccer beat writer for The News. Now, she serves as the deputy sports editor and is on co-op with The Boston Globe.
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