WESTMINSTER, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap is almost done walking through a gauntlet of autograph-seeking fans when he gets to 9-year-old Katy Marchman, who hands him a laminated strip of paper.
The note, which has illustrations below the words, reads, "Can I please have a hug?"
Heap slips down on one knee and wraps his arms around the little girl. Katy, in turn, squeals with delight.
Katy has Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the nervous system and causes frequent seizures. Speech impairment is pronounced, so Katy communicates mainly through pictures and gestures.
There's nothing Katy enjoys more than watching the Ravens at training camp. Last year, she stayed up until 2 a.m. jumping on her bed waiting for the first practice to begin. This summer, her mom, 35-year-old Kim Marchman, didn't tell her they were going until it was almost time to leave.
"The joy that just being here brings to her is amazing," Marchman said. "She doesn't communicate with many people outside her family, but she will communicate with the players to get them to come over to her. It's really therapeutic for her."
Just like any fan, Katy has her favorites. She says "MUUUUS" when running back Musa Smith comes into view, "KA" for tight end Quinn Sypniewski. Katy also tries to speak to quarterback Steve McNair and linebacker Ray Lewis.
Traveling from their Bel Air home to McDaniel College is a family affair. Marchman packs the car with her three children: Katy, 16-year-old Andrew and 6-year-old Alexandria. They all love the Ravens, but it's really about the smile the experience brings to Katy's face.
"She totally loves it," Andrew said. "She's always a ball of joy, but she expresses it more when she watches the Ravens."
Alexandria adds, "This is her favorite time of the summer!" Smith has visited Katy's school and is such a part of her life that the little girl says "MUUUUS!" more than "Dad."
"When I was young, I worked with kids with disabilities. I know what makes them happy: just to be treated as if they're normal," Smith said. "That's all they want. That's how I treat Katy.
"She doesn't speak much, but when she says my name it's humbling. For me to be in the position that I'm in, to actually give a person like her motivation to communicate, I'm honored."
Sypniewski caught two passes for 15 yards last year, but to the Marchman family, he's an All-Pro. Then again, it's hard to determine who derives more pleasure out of the friendship, "KA" or Katy.
"She knows who I am, she knows Musa, she always gives me a big hug. Just seeing her face light up is the biggest thing for me," Sypniewski said. "It's just kind of been fun having her down here, and knowing she gets a kick out of being here. I'm real fortunate to be one of those people she can connect with, and to have a relationship like that."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press