By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA – It’s a shame, really, that youth is wasted on the young. That’s what people say who have spent some time on this planet. Adolescence is a self-absorbed, high-energy romp in a world that extends out about as far as their nose. The real world? It’s out there somewhere. My dad says I have to check it out. Later, dad.
Matt Abramo never had that conversation with his father, Arnie, or his mother, Karin. Abramo never had to take the blinders off because he never had them on. Abramo, Casa Grande’s placekicker, never thought much about it either. It wasn’t like he thought himself special. Stuff happened to him but, well, stuff happens to everyone. Right?
It’s just that Abramo paid attention to his stuff.
See more photos here
“I saw what they went through,” said the Casa junior. “It was horrible. Just horrible.”
His grandmother, Maridale, died of breast cancer in 2011. Koda, his beloved Bernese Mountain dog, died in March 2012. Abramo was imprinted by them when they were alive and now, it feels as if their names are tattooed on his arm. The kid feels, OK?
Now it’s fall 2012, and C.J. Banaszek is leading the Gauchos to midfield before a game. Banaszek is the 11-year-old grandson of Casa assistant coach and once stellar 49ers offensive tackle Cas Banaszek. C.J. was in his second year battling leukemia. The team dedicated its 2012 season to C.J. Grandpa was honest with the players.
“Every day is a bonus,” said the 67-year-old who played 10 years for the 49ers.
The 2012 season ended but Abramo wasn’t ready. He wanted to continue playing, which isn’t that unusual, but the reason was.
“I felt inspired to keep playing because I was playing for C.J.,” Abramo said.
Abramo remembered where he was when the idea came to him. He was in the family car, entering northbound 101 from Petaluma’s southernmost entry point.
Abramo decided to raise money for C.J. He was going to kick in the fall for C.J. Abramo would get a website, solicit donations around Petaluma, and, wait, before we go any farther, there’s one thing you should know.
“I didn’t know C.J.,” Abramo said. Yes, he saw C.J. once in that team setting, a face in the crowd. That’s it. But it wasn’t like they were buds or even acquaintances.
“I’m doing something to help someone else,” Abramo said. “That’s a lot better than helping myself, I think.”
Abramo first went to C.J.’s grandpa to ask his permission. Banaszek felt honored and the mountain of a man became a bunch of soft tissue when Abramo spoke to him.
“I never asked him to do this,” Banaszek said. “Never! He did this all on his own.”
Abramo sought permission from C.J.’s parents, Heather and Cas (C.J. stands for Casimir Joseph. C.J. is the fourth-generation Banaszek with the same first two names). The parents agreed, even suggesting any donations be sent to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a nonprofit to assist families and their children experiencing cancer.
On June 10, 2012, Abramo opened his own website — mattkicks4acure.com — that explained his purpose and how to donate. Every extra point he made this season for Casa would be worth $5. Any field goal within 40 yards is worth $10. Any field goal outside the 40 is worth $20.
Abramo put his boots on the ground before school began and went around Petaluma soliciting donations. If they chose, their company’s name would appear on Abramo’s website. There are 25 sponsors listed.
“This is one of the reasons I love Petaluma,” said the former 49er who resides in the town. “The community has been so supportive. I told Matt whatever he needed me to do — speak at fundraisers or to groups, anything — I’d be there for him.”
The companies and private citizens who donated are aware of what the disease can do. C.J. is currently awaiting his fourth bone marrow transplant. He also knows he is not alone.
“I think we’ve raised about $1,000 so far, maybe a little more,” said Abramo, 6-foot-2, 165 pounds.
Asked how he became aware of his compassion, Abramo shrugged: “I have good parents.” The answer is not readily available for him but his view of himself is.
“I want to make something out of my life,” Abramo said. “I don’t want to be average. I don’t want to be normal. I see kids drinking or smoking. I’ve stayed away from that. I mean, what’s the point?”
Where do those roads lead? Where is the warm and fuzzy memory to be shared? Does anyone create a website for that?
“I like what I learned in kindergarten,” Abramo said. “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
Sounds simple. Sounds easy. Sounds logical. But it would tempting for Abramo to abandon that kindergarten thought. After all, he’s a college-bound placekicker. Colleges know him, want him.
He’s got a 50-yard leg; can kick 55 without a tee. All this attention could warp him, twist his view so that he could be pointing at himself now instead of others. Wouldn’t be the first time it happened.
After all, isn’t it human nature, especially as a teenager, to think of oneself before all others? That’s what we’ve been told. That’s what we believe. That’s what we accept. We could do more but, hey, you know, its human nature and we shrug, as if we have no choice. Whaddya gonna do?
Matt Abramo has made his choice. He doesn’t shrug.
“Matt’s twice as good a person as he is a kicker,” said Casa coach Trent Herzog.
Oh yes. One other thing. Matt Abramo is 16 years old.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or email@example.com.