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.
"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.