IUPUI men’s basketball team embraces Carmel boy

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IUPUI men’s basketball coach Jason Gardner understands his players can learn as much from Cayden Baringer as he can from them.

“We’re going to support him and he’s going to support us,” Gardner said.

Cayden, a 9-year-old Carmel resident, was diagnosed in 2017 with leukodystrophy, a rare, progressive, metabolic, genetic disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and often the peripheral nerves. There is no cure.

Cayden became connected with IUPUI through the Boston-headquartered national nonprofit Team IMPACT, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children facing serious and chronic illnesses through the power of team.

“Most of these kids are in wheelchairs, the prognosis just depends,” said his mother, Cara Baringer, a Westfield High School graduate who recently got her nursing degree from IUPUI. “We’re just happy he’s still walking and leading a pretty normal life. He struggles with making friends and he’s at the doctors so much. I’ve seen him gain some self-esteem and confidence here in the last few months. He loves basketball, so going to the practices, we see a smile on his face we don’t always see. He feels a part of the team and he loves to cheer them on.”

The family travels to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Leukodystrophy Center for treatment.

Cayden’s father, Benjamin Baringer, Cara’s ex-husband, is stationed with the Marines in California. Testing showed in February 2018 that Benjamin also has leukodystrophy, but his condition is not as severe as his son’s.

IUPUI held what Team Impact calls a Draft Day ceremony, which included Cayden signing a letter of intent, as college athletes do, and a presentation of an IUPUI jersey and a press conference. Cayden will continue to attend practices, games, team dinners and other events.

Cara’s sister, Lindsay Egan, heard about Team Impact while attending Butler University and suggested that Cayden might enjoy it.

Cayden already had been a visitor to the team’s practices and games, along with his younger brothers, Liam, 7, and Lucas, 5.

“He’s been in the locker room and I think the guys have enjoyed that part of it,” Gardner said. “I try to talk to our guys about life in general and I think it’s helped our guys understand that there’s more to life than just basketball.”

Senior D.J. McCall said sometimes players can get too caught up with winning games.

“Having a good impact and being a good role model for these young kids is awesome,” McCall said.

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