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Unlikely buddies: UMass tight end and Hadley fifth-grader become fast friends

  • UMass football players Jack Driscoll, Travis Reynolds and Jake Largay pose with Hadley’s Anthony Palmisano at the Helping Hearts for Hadley Schools race on April 8. COURTESY MICHELL RICHOTTE—

  • UMass football player Travis Reynolds carries Hadley’s Anthony Palmisano at the Helping Hearts for Hadley Schools race on April 8. COURTESY MICHELL RICHOTTE

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford, left, talks with his head coach, Mark Whipple, during the team's annual spring scrimmage at McGuirk Stadium, Friday, April, 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Randall West passes during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jordan Fredericks carries the ball during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sadiq Palmer carries the ball during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford, left, talks with his head coach, Mark Whipple, during the team's annual spring scrimmage at McGuirk Stadium, Friday, April, 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michael Curtis carries the ball during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jordan Fredericks, left, carries the ball as Leon Flanagan, Jr. aprroaches, right, during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jessie Britt, left, carries the ball as he takes a shove from Lee Moses during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jordan Fredericks, left, carries the ball before being tackled by Brian Roberts, Jr., right, and Brice McAllister during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Raquan Thomas, top left, and Jacoby Herring, top right, celebrate Herring's catch during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. Jon Lucier looks on. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jordan Fredericks, front left, carries the ball as Chris Hunt applies a tackle during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chinedu Ogbonna, left, and Ross Comis talk during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Marquis Young carries the ball during the annual UMass spring scrimmage Friday, April 13, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Anthony Palmisano flips the coin before the UMass football spring game Friday in Amherst. Palmisano served as an honorary captain for the white team. THOM KENDALL / UMASS ATHLETICS



@MattVautourDHG
Sunday, April 15, 2018

AMHERST — The jersey was legit. It wasn’t some replica anyone can buy in the campus bookstore. This was the real deal, the same maroon Adidas uniform top that the players wear with a number “1” and his name stitched on the back.

Anthony Palmisano was wearing it proudly for pictures with players and celebrity coach Chris Berman until he learned that for Friday’s UMass spring game, Travis Reynolds was on the white team.

Palmisano wanted to be on Reynolds’ side. If the junior tight end was on the white team in the annual intra-squad scrimmage, that’s where Palmisano wanted to be. The 11-year-old from just up the road and the tight end from the other side of the world have become fast friends over the past week. So the Australian rustled up a white coach’s polo for Anthony, and his 7-year-old brother Brody put on the maroon as they walked out for the opening coin toss.

“That was good,” Reynolds said appreciatively. “We want him on the white team.”

They’ve only known each other for a few days. Reynolds, offensive linemen Jake Largay and Jack Driscoll went to the Walk for Helping Hands on Sunday at Hadley Elementary school with no knowledge of Anthony yet. The players were attending the fundraising event simply to help a good cause.

Christine Markowski, whose husband Dan is an associate athletic director and former football player at UMass, works at the school. She introduced Michelle Richotte and her sons Anthony and Brody to the football players when they arrived.

Anthony, a fifth-grader at the school, has two rare conditions – ring 18, a chromosomal abnormality that causes some cognitive and physical delays and panhypopituitarism which requires medicine and nightly injections to correct deficiencies in his pituitary and adrenal glands. He gets regular treatment from Boston Children’s Hospital and Baystate in Springfield. He has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and is at regular risk of seizures. All are believed to be connected, but there’s no definitive way to prove it.

What he lacks in glandular production, he makes up for in charm. People are drawn to the happy, blonde kid with glasses. Classmates, teachers and strangers warm quickly to his joyful energy

“He’s like the mayor of grammar school,” said his father Marc Palmisano, who was dressed in UMass gear for Friday’s game. “He’s nice to everybody, and everybody is nice back to him.”

UMass players were no different.

“He was wicked fun, full energy. I used to come up here all the time and really look up to college football players,” Largay said. “Getting to pay it back to a younger kid is really good. It’s humbling. You see their face light up and get happy. It’s really cool.”

Reynolds and Anthony hit it off particularly well. Palmisano loves animals, and Reynolds told him about the unusual ones in his home country.

“They got talking about kangaroos and snakes,” Richotte said.

At one point when Anthony got tired, Reynolds hoisted him up on his shoulders. When the walk was over, the football players wanted this new friendship to continue and invited the Palmisanos to Friday’s spring game.

“For some big football players to really be drawn to him was really heartwarming. It was nice to see. They just really hit it off. It was really amazing Travis could have that connection with him so quickly,” Rochotte said. “It makes me think Travis is a special person that he can see in Anthony that fast what we see all the time.”

After consulting with Mark Whipple and coaching staff, the invitation expanded. The family took part in the pregame kids clinic, played catch on the McGuirk Stadium turf and was in the locker room before the game. Whipple introduced them along with Berman and fellow guest coach Denis Gagnon to warm applause from the players.

As he moved in and out of his pregame responsibilities, Reynolds kept checking in and delivered a team-autographed football and ushered Anthony and Brody to the center of the field, where Anthony tossed the coin. It landed tails, just as Reynolds’ white team had called for. He was still clutching the Eisenhower silver dollar used in the ceremony as the game itself started.

White came from behind to win, 29-26, and Anthony and his family joined the postgame locker room celebration.

The game marked the end of spring practice. But not the friendship according to Reynolds.

“He was full of energy. He was laughing. It was really fulfilling,” Reynolds said in his unmistakable accent. “If he ever wants to hang out, outside of football. I’d be up for it. He was an absolute joy to be around.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage