By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — When Evan Skoparantzos was honored by the Walter Camp Foundation earlier this month it was a huge honor, even if the Westhill senior is still somewhat surprised that others find his story noteworthy.
“Basically I’m no different than anyone else,” Skoparantzos said. “I want to be seen as an everyday person.”
That may be true now, but few have endured what Skoparantzos went through, even if his memory remains vague.
At the age of 5, while undergoing a routine physical, it was discovered that Skoparantzos had ganglioneuroma, a form of neuroblastoma, which is the most common form of cancer in infancy.
Skoparantzos said he underwent four surgeries over the following year. A tumor split into two, one connecting to his kidney and the other to his aorta. He said there remains a quarter-sized piece of tumor still on his aorta.
“To be honest I don’t remember much, except after the first or second surgery when I woke up and saw my family around,” Skoparantzos said. “I remember the CT scans and ultrasounds. I don’t remember any pain, just the process.”
The only reminder, Skoparantzos said, is a large scar on his stomach.
Skoparantzos is now cancer free. Tests that he once had to undergo every three months now are done annually.
An exam during the 2012 season was the impetus for Skoparantzos’ story going public.
“It was in November and I had been with the team about a year and a half, first as defensive coordinator,” said Frank Marcucio, who just finished his second season as Westhill’s head coach. “His mother said she had to miss practice because she was taking him for a physical. I said ‘What physical?’ I had no idea what she was talking about. That’s when I first learned what he had been through.”
When Marcucio received an application last year for the Walter Camp UCAN Inspire Award, he immediately nominated Skoparantzos.
“Evan’s story is a little bit more personal because this is quite a story about what he’s had to overcome,” Marcucio said. “His is a story you don’t hear about that often.”
Skoparantzos said until that point, his experience was known primarily only by his immediate family. Many of his friends and teammates on Westhill’s football and basketball teams were still unaware until he was selected as the winner of the Walter Camp award.
“My coach told some people, but other than that not many people know,” Skoparantzos said. Skoparantzos, a wide receiver, was a major contributor to the Westhill football team’s 6-5 finish this past season, finishing second with 35 receptions for 514 yards, and leading the Vikings with 7 touchdowns, two of which came during a dramatic comeback win over Danbury.
Known for his tireless work ethic, the 6-2 Skoparantzos is a starting forward for the school’s basketball team, which is currently 7-2 and a contender in the FCIAC.
“That’s one of the reasons I put him up for the award and he won it, he gets the most and maximizes the most of his ability,” Marcucio said. “What he went through is a big reason, I firmly believe that. He’s one of the most mentally tough players I’ve ever coached.”
Skoparantzos said his illness is mostly in his rear-view mirror. His scar is a reminder. His annual exams are not met with trepidation.
“It doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said. “You get used to it. If it affects me, it is not from a mental standpoint. Sometimes every so often when I go to bed and look at my stomach.”
Skoparantzos said he plans to play basketball in college. He has already been accepted at McDaniel College, located about 30 miles from Baltimore.
Skoparantzos will continue to shrug off the idea that his past has transformed him, even if those close to him disagree.
“He understands the award was a big deal because it was Walter Camp and who was there, but otherwise to him it’s not a big deal,” Marcucio said.
Skoparantzos said the only constant going forward is what has helped him excel as a two-sport athlete for Westhill.
“Nothing is going to change except never giving up,” Skoparantzos said. “Never stop, just keep on going.”