Each year, thousands of high schoolers across the country sign their national letters of intent to play a variety of sports at one of the NCAA’s three intercollegiate levels. But sometimes the players who make the biggest impact on each other’s lives will never step on the playing surface or even appear in any game for their respective programs.

They're the teammates you laugh and share stories with behind the scenes. They're the teammates that teach you that there is always a bigger meaning behind participating in sports. They're the same teammates that teach us how to love, care and respect each other.

Those teammates are the children from Team IMPACT.

Team IMPACT is a program that gives children, ages 5-15, with life-threatening or chronic illnesses that have resulted in treatment or extended hospital stays within the past three years, an outlet of support from NCAA programs. Participants are drafted to local colleges to any sport at any level. According to the organization's website, teams are determined based on proximity to the child's family as well as the program's enthusiasm and committment to providing the child "consistent and active socialization both on and off campus." Team IMPACT participants stay with their respective teams and participate in all team activities from their “Draft Day” until their graduation, which generally is two or three years later. 

On Draft Day, a child signs the dotted line and officially becomes a member of the team. They go through the standard signing procedure and hold an introductory press conference before they meet their teammates and get their jerseys and team gear at their own individual locker in the locker room.

After attending practices, games, meals and other team-oriented activities and trips, the team holds a graduation ceremony for the child, where their accomplishments are celebrated as they begin to transition back into their regular routines. Like any other student-athlete, after graduation they will forever be remembered as an alumnus of the school's program.

Team IMPACT began in 2011 when co-founders Jay Calnan and Dan Kraft, and a group of their former classmates and business associates wanted to bring together children, families and college programs together to help a bigger causes than sports themselves. Less than a decade into the program's existence, thousands of children have benefited while tens of thousands of student-athletes have joined a movement greater than their on-field responsibilities. 

Team IMPACT’s mission statement is to “improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of a team.” 

Take a look at some of this year's Team IMPACT participants and the NCAA programs involved:

For more information, visit http://www.goteamimpact.org and on Twitter @GoTeamIMPACT.