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He's Much More Than Some Fan

November 15, 1994|CHRIS FOSTER

Nick Contois, Esperanza freshman, can't stand Long Beach Veterans Stadium. And, yes, it's personal.

Most things, he tolerates. Being in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy doesn't seem to slow him down. His only concern was people would think his legs were too skinny. So, clearly, Contois can deal with life's injustices.

But The Vet , well, that's enough to make the guy go snake-eyed. He can't deal with that place. He's never going back there. N-E-V-E-R.

OK, so the Aztecs lost two games there this season. OK, they were both by three points, to Long Beach Poly and Los Alamitos. OK, those games were within Esperanza's grasp and slipped away. Is that any reason to condemn an entire facility?

Apparently, yes. At least from Contois' point of view. If he could personally swing the wrecking ball, he would.

Anything bad for Esperanza football is bad for Contois. He's sort of the team's protector. Aztec football makes him sparkle, or fume, depending on whether it was played in The Vet .

The playoffs start this week and Nick will be there at Trabuco Hills. He'll be on the sideline wearing his 00 Aztec road jersey. He might be more what high school football should be about than most teams playing.

With coaches running up scores and those $5 Mater Dei homecoming programs, a guy like Contois can make you feel pretty good about high school football.

Even so-called student-athletes are getting a little tiresome because of all the strutting. Make a tackle and then make a jerk out of yourself seems to be inbred. But student-fans, like Contois, are still a pleasure.

People already are talking about the fistful of cash to be made off the Division I playoffs. Finding venues large enough will be tough; finding cash boxes large enough will be even tougher. Everyone wants their cut.

But for a guy like Contois, it's not about money. It's about athletics. It's his passion.

He has been an sports junkie almost from birth. He was a fan before he could read. He was watching games on television when he was 2. His mother, Diane, would turn on Sesame Street and Nick would vanish.

Who wants to see Big Bird if the Big Ten is an option? Nick at night means Contois watching Monday Night Football.

Contois has played, too. There was soccer with neighborhood kids, at least until the day a ball got caught under his wheelchair and tipped him over. He played baseball, with teams made up of other physically challenged children. He also trains as hard as any athlete, attending therapy weekly and lifting weights.

But there was no outlet for him at Esperanza, or so it seemed. Contois and Coach Gary Meek created one.

He is at practice every day, keeping things moving by timing the drills. He also is learning to do the team's stats on computer.

But his biggest contribution is at games. Why, there was an outward sign of relief from the players when Contois finally arrived, late, for a junior varsity game this season. He attends those games--his brother, Mike, plays for the junior varsity--and the varsity games.

One player after another will saunter over for a chat. He offers encouragement and some advice.

A little pain can go with it. The Aztec varsity lost to Los Alamitos on a Thursday and the junior varsity was beaten the next day. Contois got home that afternoon and told his mother he needed some space. He cruised his neighborhood wondering why ?

But there's more than enough joy. Sitting in his chair, wearing his jersey, he's a part of the program. That's the place for Contois to be. As long as it's not at The Vet.

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