NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) - Football players with laser beam focus on winning can execute amazing plays on the field during a game. But, for the Newport Junior High Greypups, the move that had everyone talking took place before the game.
"My mom cried once they called my name as captain," said Abraham Gomez, a 14-year-old at Newport Junior High.
But, that wasn't the reason the rest of the onlookers at a weeknight regularly-scheduled game were moved to tears. NJHS took on the Mohawks of Piggott.
"Every home game, we always have a team meal beforehand," Coach Mark McGee said. "I had asked him if he wanted to come eat with us the night before."
McGee went on to explain that Gomez had not been able to attend school due to his cancer diagnosis.
"He came to me as a ninth grader and started kicking," McGee said. "I had no idea he was sick and I don't think he did either."
The football coach has known Gomez since seventh grade.
"He was always positive and anytime I have a kid that is always positive, sure I'm gonna give them a shot to play," the Greypups coach said.
"He was dealing with pain and not telling anybody until he had to," McGee said. "Here he had been out there on the field in the hot August sun, and we never knew he had cancer."
But, Gomez's cancer diagnosis would come later that month.
"I did have back pain and really had trouble sleeping," Gomez said. "But, I just kept thinking it would go away."
Instead it got worse.
Doctors at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock diagnosed him with testicular cancer. It has meant regular trips to the hospital for chemo treatments and time spent away from his father's business in McCrory. Ramon Gomez owns and operates Los Rios, a restaurant serving a wide range of Mexican cuisine.
"I know that he's (Abraham) not been doing as well as he had been," Coach McGee said. "So I invited him up for the meal, and we had a devotional and prayed for him."
"His Mom was kind of reluctant," Coach McGee said. "I told them, 'I can put you up in the press box.'"
Because of his chemo, Abraham has to be protected against germs and infections. He wears a surgical mask in public.
"He asked me, 'Can I be on the sidelines?'" Coach McGee explained.
But, Abraham wasn't just on the sidelines.
When it was time for the team to run through the school banner to start the game, little did anyone expect to see what would happen next.
With arms locked together in a tight brotherhood show of unity, the Newport Greypups burst through the banner with their teammate, Abraham Gomez, in the middle.
Wearing a hat, instead of a helmet, Gomez stood tall in his orange and black jersey. Bearing the number "1" on his chest, he stood facing the crowd for introductions with only his eyes showing from beneath the surgical mask covering his face.
"My Mom cried when they called my name," Abraham said. "Many people stood up and started cheering. I will remember that for a long time."
"I was just happy he was there and being a part of it," Coach McGee said. "I was happy to see the young men around him stepping up. A lot of kids wouldn't do that. It showed their colors and their character. That meant a lot to me."
Coach McGee explained that none of what happened on the field had been planned at all. He said the boys came up with the show of support. It also warmed his heart to see Abraham return to "his old self."
"After 30 minutes, he was laughing and joking," Coach McGee said. "He's a special kid to me and all the other kids on the football team. To ask a 13-year-old, or a 14- or a 15-year-old to understand the gravity of the situation like that...I know he's not doing as well as he had been."
McGee remembered when Abraham came to him earlier this year and wanted to play.
"To have a kid come through and do everything, and not once complain about it--getting hit and then get right back up and stay so positive," Coach McGee explained. "He's always positive, and we try to text him every day or visit him when he's home from the hospital."
"I've had one surgery already," Abraham said on the phone from his room at Arkansas Children's Hospital.
He has regular chemotherapy treatments and keeps up with school assignments online. Abraham is already planning for his future beyond cancer.
"My Dad is a business owner," Abraham said. "Before the cancer, I would go and help him in the restaurant. He has taught me many things about business, and then sports is always an interest."
Since the night that his football team led him out for the opening introduction, a hashtag has surfaced on social media signifying a campaign among townspeople in Newport.
#OneTeamOneTownOneFamily is a boost to Abraham's spirits. There's a GoFundMe account that has also been established in his name.
In the meantime, Abraham looks forward to getting back with the team, hearing from his friends and just being a teenager.
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