NEWARK — As the reality of a 58-37 championship-game loss to Sanford School settled in, the members of the St. Elizabeth girls sat mostly silent on their bench, tears rolling down their cheeks. To their biggest fan, however, there was no disappointment, only excitement as he ran across the court at the Bob Carpenter Center to greet his heroes.
When 5-year-old Ignacio Ferreiro Jr. reached the Vikings, he gave each one a high-five. The girls responded with hugs and gentle pats on his head. All except one. The last player Ignacio, known as “Nacho,” saw was senior Macy Robinson, and the Vikings’ star reached down and gave him a big hug, picked him up and held him close on her lap.
Robinson and the Ferreiro family got to know each other through mutual friends at Cape Henlopen two summers ago, and since then, the team has adopted Nacho as one of their own. The youngster cheers for them unconditionally, and the team made it part of their mission this year to raise awareness of the potentially debilitating malady Nacho was born with, mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondria are located in the cells of the body and are responsible for creating its energy, according to the Mitochondrial Disease Foundation of Delaware, established by Nacho’s mother, Marci, in November. If the mitochondria begin to fail, various organs and muscles are endangered.
Nacho's liver failed shortly after his birth, and he received a transplant when he was just months old. There is no standard treatment, and Nacho's prognosis is uncertain.
The Vikings sported green shoelaces throughout the state basketball tournament to raise awareness of mitochondrial disease, and at the championship game, they took the floor wearing green long-sleeved warm-up shirts reading “Mito Met Its Match” on the back and the foundation's logo on the front.
Ignacio Ferreiro Sr. said he was talking to Robinson the morning of the game just to wish her good luck when she asked if the team could wear green shirts during pregame. Ferreiro drove to Philadelphia to get the shirts, and then headed to Unique Images in Wilmington to get them printed just three hours before game time. It was worth the effort. Seeing the girls in the shirts “means the world to us. The shoelaces, for the first playoff game when they wore them, were very touching. They're all very good girls, they love our family, and we obviously love them back.”
Nacho's parents, who wore the same shirts in their seats about 10 rows from the court, appreciated how the girls have accepted him and their family.
“The girls are amazing,” Marci Ferreiro said. “They're sweet. They have huge hearts. They're always asking to see the kids.”
That day at Cape Henlopen, Robinson asked the Ferreiros if she could take Nacho and his sister Adriana, who's now 8, into the ocean. Since then, she has become a regular presence at the Ferreiros' home near St. John the Beloved, where they are parishioners and the children attend school. Nacho is in pre-kindergarten, and Adriana is a third-grader.
“She just became a part of the family. She started stopping by the house, and the kids were always asking for her. She really became almost like a mentor for them because they started to really like basketball,” Marci Ferreiro said.
The feeling is mutual, Robinson said. “It’s been great (to have him around). He’s been to all of our games, and his family. We enjoyed it. He brings a lot of positive to us. He’s a good kid, everybody’s happy around him.”
The team was happy to wear the green shoelaces and shirts to raise awareness of mitochondrial disease, she said. And it was obvious that Nacho was happy to see the girls, especially Robinson, after the game.
“At the end of this, it hurts that we lost, but he’s more important,” she said. “It's just a game.”