Change for the better has overtaken New London's Gio Lopez, the role model

New London's Gio Lopez tries to break away from Waterford's Luther Wade in ECC football action Friday, September 8, 2017.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
New London's Gio Lopez tries to break away from Waterford's Luther Wade in ECC football action Friday, September 8, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — His story echoes much of what has plagued the city in recent weeks: hanging with the wrong crowd, making the wrong decisions, on the wrong side of the law. It’s all we’ve read and heard, stigmatizing New London and many of its people.

But then there’s this: What happens when a young man who was with the wrong crowd, making the wrong decisions and on the wrong side of the law suddenly finds a light for the way and makes all the right changes in his life?

It happens, you know.

But the stories get lost or dismissed.

Not today.

Because all of us — even the keyboard commandos who disdainfully pass judgment on the 06320 — need to see this one.

This is the story of New London High School's Gio Lopez.

You may recall reading his name recently in The Day. He was named our 2017 All-Area Football Player of the Year. His photo — big hair, big grin and big, green bow tie — mirrored the old line from the credit card commercial: priceless.

Who knew, though, this was the same kid who wore an ankle monitor before he set foot inside the high school?

Or spent two weeks at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center?

Or was a real pain in the ascot to many of his coaches?

Yep. Same kid. Just different in all the right ways.

“I got in trouble for robbery. That’s why I had the ankle monitor. So they could track my every move,” Lopez was saying the other day after the Whalers won a basketball game. “I was in the streets. I thought that was the life. I had never even walked into high school and that’s what I thought was cool. Lots of negative things.”

The negative things conspired to treat Lopez to the worst — and perhaps best, it turns out — two weeks of his life a few years ago at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center. Sometimes, the universe has this rather direct way of foreshadowing. Lopez got the message. If you stay on this path …

“They tell you what to do,” Lopez said. “They wake you up on their time. You eat breakfast on their time. You go to school on their time. Always telling you what to do. You have no say. It was horrible. I had to change.”

And that’s what Gio Lopez did.

“The streets are always going to be there. But there’s nothing positive,” Lopez said. “I try to tell freshmen now go to school, don’t skip class. That’s what I did. If I didn’t feel like being in school, I was leaving. I want to be a good role model for them.”

He’s been a good enough role model to be named a captain of the basketball team. He told the coaches he didn’t need to start if it would help team harmony. And to think this was a kid that, even as late as his junior year, ran afoul of his football and basketball coaches because his attitude focused on three things: me, myself, I.

Turns out change doesn’t necessarily happen instantly. But it happens faithfully when the decision is made.

“I sat down with myself and decided it’s my senior year, I’m going to put the BS to the side,” Lopez said. “I had to start making better decisions, hanging out with better people. Start relationships with better people, even down to things like talking to you guys at The Day. It’s a better feeling to be with people who do things the right way. It used to be that every time a cop drove by, I panicked. I couldn’t live like that.”

His coaches have noticed.

“Gio has always shown leadership skills, but I don’t think they presented themselves in the right way,” basketball coach Craig Parker said. “He’s learned how this year with a more positive approach. We heard really good things about him during football season. And that’s why we made him a captain, from the recommendations of the football staff.”

And now Lopez has aspirations of playing football in college, perhaps at UMass Dartmouth or Western New England. A long way from an ankle monitor. So maybe Lopez’s words resonate more than most when he laments the recent violence in the city.

“Violence is never the answer,” Gio Lopez said. “Trust me, I know. Never the answer. Just negative outcomes.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.







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