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Killingly's Politis has beaten cancer ... and will play football again

Killingly — At the intersection of Jim Valvano (“don’t give up; don’t ever give up”) and Paulo Coelho (“when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”) comes the awesomely awesome story of Vasileios Politis, the kid from Killingly who has beaten cancer.

And thanks to kindness and compassion from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, Politis gets to finish the high school football career he once thought imperiled by an inability to even swallow, let alone run a post pattern.

“I think what sticks out the most about this,” Killingly coach Chad Neal was saying the other day, “is something (Politis) said to all of us while he was recovering. He said, ‘you don’t HAVE to play football. You GET to play football.’ That’s really powerful. All of a sudden, running those sprints and other little problems in life don’t seem to matter anymore.”

It was March of 2016 when Politis, who caught seven touchdown passes for the Redmen the previous fall, was diagnosed with stage three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells, which are part of the body’s immune system. Imagine: What began as somewhat innocuous groin pain turned into a life or death allegory for this regular, innocent high school kid, who heard the words “85-90 percent recovery rate” from his doctor but still had to process the 10-15 percent chance of the unthinkable.

Chemotherapy followed. Nothing new to the Killingly family. Former basketball coach Scott Derosier (lymphoma) and Neal (skin cancer) understand too well.

Politis, meanwhile, knew the unlikelihood of playing football again. But he kept hanging around the team. Providing inspiration to his friends and drawing strength from them.

So how does that go again?

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

“He really didn’t plan on coming back,” Neal said. “He wanted to go out with his classmates (who graduated this past June). Maybe do a postgraduate year in college. But we had just lost in the semifinals to Hillhouse (last season) and he said, ‘coach, I don’t want it to end like this.’”

Politis missed a semester of school in 2016 because of the illness. And so while he walked with his graduating class in June, he still needs a semester to officially graduate. Hence, the potential chance to play while working toward his official diploma.

Killingly officials petitioned the CIAC. And the rest, as they say, is current events.

CIAC rules allow for “eight consecutive semesters of eligibility.” There must be “hardship” to be granted what amounts to a “fifth year.”

“An incredible story,” CIAC executive director Karissa Niehoff said earlier this week of Politis’ plight. “We deal with about 110,000 potential student-athletes with so many different backgrounds, stories and situations. Some of them pull at your heart strings. The kids that go through these kinds of things really are heroes. My goodness, (the extra year) is the least we can do.”

Neal: “We were told it was one of the easiest decisions the CIAC ever had to make. Such a great thing. We are very grateful.”

And so now Politis, who came to practices last August and negotiated his way up and down the big hill that separates the parking lot from the field at Killingly, will be in pads in a few weeks. Neal said he’s seen Politis in the team’s passing league this summer and thought, “wow.”

Might be worth all of our whiles to watch the Redmen play this fall. Vasileios Politis has shown us all a light for the way. His reminder that we “get to” do the things we enjoy — and that they’re hardly guaranteed for any of us — gives us great pause. Or as a friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day, “don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Being alive is a special occasion.”

Just ask Vasileios Politis.

He’s alive.

And a football player again.


This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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