NEWPORT Whether referring to NFL, college or high school teams, the players know they can always rely on the 12th man when the going gets tough. However, for the Newport Greypups, that 12th man isn’t the crowd — it’s ninth-grader Abraham Gomez.
Gomez was diagnosed with testicular cancer prior to the season and has yet to step foot on the field, but that hasn’t stopped the teen from having an impact on the team’s and coaches’ performances.
Both the senior high and junior high programs are impacted by Gomez’s illness.
“The captains carry his jersey out for the coin tosses every single game,” head coach Mark McGee said. “We place his jersey on the bench once the game starts, and sometimes I catch myself glancing at the jersey during the middle of a game, and it kind of brings some peace over me and grounds me and humbles me. All I can hope for is that his presence and lack thereof will inspire and humble the kids as much as it does me.”
Newport, a town rich in football tradition, finished the season undefeated. Like many other small town in Arkansas, football is often the bridge that brings a community together. While the city of Newport is still dealing with the death of Detective Patrick Weatherford of the Newport Police Department, who died in the line of duty, the disease that now slows Gomez has only served to make the community stronger.
“My coaches and the town have done a lot for me ever since they found out I was sick,” Gomez said. “I had friends that came and visited me when I was in the hospital, and I was a captain for one home game and got to flip the coin.”
Gomez, who is the oldest of three siblings, said he has good days and bad days, but overall, he said he tries to stay positive. So far, his teammates are making sure he isn’t worried about their performance as they continue to roll toward an undefeated season.
“I’m better now than I was when they diagnosed me,” Gomez said. “I do weekly chemo, and the third Thursday of the month, I have to visit Children’s Hospital, and I’m there for five days. The school brought me a tablet so I can keep up on my studies. I’m in a program called SOI (School of Innovation). The principle told me I can do the work as I feel like it.”
This was to be the first year for Gomez to take the field as a player, and he spent the majority of the summer working out and perfecting his kicking routine. McGee said he had seen Gomez practice kicking for hours at a time until his toes were sore and he couldn’t kick anymore. It was that drive and determination that led McGee to begin to work with Gomez.
“My first encounter with Abraham was three years ago,” McGee said. “To my knowledge, he would go to games and support the teams. I just remember having him in class, and he was always respectful, always did what he was supposed to do and never caused any issues. I was actually kind of surprised when he came to me and wanted to join the football program. I had no hesitations about it. As I stated earlier, I want as many good kids in the program as possible.”
McGee said that when people use the term “Greyhounds,” their first thought is normally athletics, but in reality, “Greyhounds” is considered a unit or family around the community.
“There is much support around the community for Abraham,” McGee said. “Whether it is signs in the hallway or something as simple as homemade bracelets the kids wear with his name on them, there is always a reminder of support. That is a great thing to see around school, in my opinion.”
Gomez still has a ways to go on his road to recovery, but he has the support of the community. There have been various fundraisers to help offset the cost of his treatment, McGee said.