UAlbany’s little big man: Danes make Clifton Park fan with rare disease part of the team

JP Honsinger lines up with members of the UAlbany team for the national anthem before a recent game.JP Honsinger lines up with members of the UAlbany team for the national anthem before a recent game.
JP Honsinger lines up with members of the UAlbany team for the national anthem before a recent game.

JP Honsinger lines up with members of the UAlbany team for the national anthem before a recent game.

Gazette Sportswriter

ALBANY — JP   Honsinger was listed as University at Albany’s youngest basketball recruit ever when the Great Danes announced their latest additions in November.

The story heated up, however, when the national media learned that Honsinger was actually a slightly built, 5-foot, 11-year-old student at Arcadia Middle School in Clifton Park, and that he had an extremely rare disease commonly called childhood Alzheimer’s. The story soon went viral.

Things have quieted down a bit for the Honsinger family in terms of national hoopla, but Jay Honsinger and his wife, Donna, have been diligently getting the word out about their son and the difficult challenges he faces.

“The main thing is that JP just loves people and sports,” said Jay Honsinger. “He doesn’t really know everything that is going on. He knows what he has, but he doesn’t know how serious it is.”

JP has what is called Niemann-Pick type C disease. Only about 500 people in the United States have the disease, and it currently is incurable.

“It’s amazing. After the first couple of stories came out, our phones were ringing off the hook for interviews,” Honsinger said. “Everybody has been great, but especially the people at UAlbany.”

There has been a special relationship between JP and the Great Danes’ athletic community, starting back in 2013, when UAlbany lacrosse coach Scott Marr made JP the Danes’ ball boy.

Then, UAlbany basketball coach Will Brown’s wife, Jamie, met Donna Honsinger at a fundraiser, and the two discussed JP’s plight. Will Brown was told of the situation, and he immediately began to think about a way to help the youngster, especially since his oldest son, Jackson, is only a year older.

“Will invited us to practice one day, and we ended up staying the whole practice session watching the kids. JP didn’t want to leave. They gave us hats and some stuff like that. Then, after the practice session, Will was so inspired that he asked us if JP wanted to be part of the team. It made him happy in a way that I can’t.”

Whenever they can, the Honsingers bring JP to a practice or a game, and the Great Danes make sure to treat him like their little brother.

“The kids at UAlbany have been so great to him,” said Honsinger. “It’s so good for him to be around the players. We walk onto campus and everybody seems to know him. Of course, you don’t see a lot of 11-year-old kids on a college campus, but all the kids, even the ones not into sports, always stop by and say hello.”

“I thought that I would be able to use the platform that I have to help raise awareness,” said Brown. “Niemann-Pick type C is a very rare disease. I knew that if we signed JP to a [National Letter of Intent] that we would receive a lot of local media attention, which would be great. However, I was hoping that one major national media outlet would run with the story, which would really open some eyes. I was amazed at the amount of local and national media attention that we received, and I was especially happy for JP and his family. I think the Honsinger family was overwhelmed with the attention and support that they received and very grateful, as well.”

Since the UAlbany recruiting announcement, JP also has been given the royal treatment by the New York Giants, who gave the family field passes to watch football practice and a game.

“They gave JP some autographs, a glove and plenty of pictures. Anything with a ball in it, JP just loves.”

Ironically, just like his son, Jay Honsinger was a big sports fan in his early years but completely lost interest when so many pro sports suffered walk-outs and strikes in the 1970s.

“I cared less about sports for so long, but now I’ve got my interest back, because of what it’s done for JP,” he explained.

“Every day, when JP comes home, he never watches television or plays video games. All he wants to do is play hockey, lacrosse, basketball or football. Sports have been great for him.”

Honsinger said that even though his son is in the sixth grade, he reads at a second-grade level. Often, he loses a little bit of what he learned each day.

“When he goes to school, he doesn’t really get tested or given homework. [The classroom] just really provides a sense of normalcy for him.

“But he’s getting treatment, and the doctors feel he’s stable for now, and that’s good.”

JP was recently named honorary captain of the Troy Police Department, and a year ago he was named officer of the year.

“Everybody has been so good to JP, but the biggest thing for us at this stage is to bring newfound awareness to the disease and to raise money. That’s our mission,” said Honsinger, an employee of Ginsberg Foods.

“We’ve had people send us anywhere from $10 to $1,000, and it’s never enough. We never take anything for ourselves. Both my wife and I work, and we have what we need. Everything is donated 100 percent to research for the disease.

“This has given us a purpose for our lives,” Honsinger said. “We’re raising money and awareness, and that helps keep us going.”

The UAlbany athletic community can’t get enough of JP.

“Our team enjoys being around JP. I think they can learn a lot from him,” said Brown. “He is a courageous and tough little boy. He deserves to live his life to the fullest and to enjoy his life for a long time. Life often is not fair, and our players have learned to appreciate what they have and how they can help impact someone else’s life. JP is a special little boy who loves sports. Having him around our team allows him the opportunity to be around the game of basketball and to develop relationships with the players in our program. Our goal is to help JP and the family create everlasting memories.”

“We’ve had contacts from as far away as the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. Everybody wants to help. This has been unbelievable for our entire family,” said Honsinger, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, Molly.

“To be honest, both my wife and I take anti-depressants so we can get through the days sometimes, but organizations like Starlite at Albany Medical have been so good to all of us.

“We’re trying to speed up things for all Alzheimer-type diseases, and we’ve been lobbying the FDA. I know that when new experimental drugs are out there, there is a higher risk, and the FDA’s purpose is safety. If there is no cure right now, you at least want to try and keep the disease within reason. We need them to move faster and take more chances.”


About the Author

Erin K. O'Neill
Erin K. O'Neill is the Web Editor at The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, NY.