By Dave Ongie
The signing ceremony that took place inside the Steve Lacy Fieldhouse on the campus of Milligan College last Friday might go down as the most memorable in the history of the men’s basketball program.
The red carpet was rolled out for the newest Buffalo as athletes, coaches, faculty and staff lined up at the door to the gymnasium awaiting the arrival of Eli Roberts. When Eli walked through the door, Milligan president Bill Greer helped form a human tunnel to welcome Eli and his family into the fold.
With a National Letter of Intent waiting on a table and Milligan men’s basketball coach Bill Robinson proudly looking on, Eli strode up to the table, sat in his father’s lap and signed on the dotted line. From there, the 5-year-old went to the locker room to get his jersey and meet his new teammates.
“It’s got to be the best ever,” Robinson said of the signing ceremony. “It’s the coolest part I’ve been a part of, that’s for sure.”
Signing with Milligan’s basketball team was the end of a momentous week for Eli Roberts, who turned five on Monday along with his twin sister Emma. Then he got some good news during a midweek trip to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis. After being diagnosed with pediatric brain tumor at birth, an MRI test showed a stable result for the youngster.
“His MRI yesterday came back as a stable result again with no treatments,” said Josh Roberts, Eli’s father. “He’s been 18 months off his chemotherapy regiment. He’s been getting stable results every time. We travel to St. Jude in Memphis every three months for the rest of his life or until God decides to heal him.”
The good news made Friday that much better for the Roberts family. Eli, who was connected with Milligan’s basketball team through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, was able to take the floor with the Buffs and burn off some energy. Eli was a bit reserved around the cameras, but once the media cleared out of the gym, Robinson said his newest recruit was a force to be reckoned with.
“It was neat to see after everybody left, he really came out of his shell,” Robinson said. “They stayed for a good 45 minutes or an hour and he just ran around the gym and played while we practiced. It really was fulfilling to see how it all unfolded. It was just perfect.”
The Friends of Jaclyn program connects children diagnosed with brain tumors to high school and collegiate sports teams. When the organization reached out to Robinson, he didn’t hesitate.
“It’s one of those deals where you say yes right away,” he said.
As it happens, Eli’s mother Jen is a graduate of Milligan College, and in another coincidence, Eli’s father Josh refereed a volleyball match inside Steve Lacy Fieldhouse recently.
“All the pieces, how they worked together was just incredible,” Robinson said.
Friday’s practice is hardly the end of Eli’s journey with the Buffs. Robinson made sure his newest recruit got his own locker as well as a full schedule of Milligan’s practices and games. Eli will have a spot on the bench anytime he can make it for a game, and Robinson is counting on his youngest recruit to spread some positive energy to his teammates.
“Elijah brings a lot of joy wherever he goes,” said Eli’s father. “We’re excited to have the Milligan Buffaloes on our side, and Elijah is really excited to be a part of the team.”