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Soccer player returns to field after brain injury

September 24, 2018

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — As Joe and Berta Eugenio wheeled their son onto the Keith Francis Track in the brisk twilight hours of Saturday evening, a swell rose from the stands above McCoy Field.

The crowd came to its feet, clapping, screaming “We love you Andrew.” Over on the sidelines, New Bedford High and GNB Voc-Tech players and coaches openly wept, overcome in the moment.

Andrew Eugenio had returned.

“It’s emotional,” Joe said. “I wasn’t expecting this. He loves soccer. He eats, sleeps and breaths soccer. He’s dedicated to this team.”

Eugenio is still a long way from kicking a soccer ball, but the 17-year-old has been out of the hospital for about two months and is slowly becoming more alert and focused thanks to physical and occupational therapy four times a week. He served as the Whalers’ honorary captain on Saturday night as they defeated the Bears 2-0 behind goals from Gil Antunes and DaMon Greene, two seniors and classmates of Eugenio.

“It was emotional for the team,” Greene said. “I played with him for years. We had a little family time there. That brought our emotions up to play as a team and fight for him. That’s going to motivate us the whole season. Every game, every half will be for Andrew.”

Eugenio suffered a traumatic brain injury on March 13, 2017, when he and a friend were driving in the Normandin Middle School parking lot. With Eugenio behind the wheel, the car suddenly accelerated — it’s possible a flip flop was caught on the pedal — and jumped the curb, hitting a sign, crossing the street and striking a house. Eugenio was either ejected or leapt from the car, hitting his head in the process.

After more than a year at Vibra Hospital in New Bedford, unable to talk or walk, Eugenio was able to move home on July 18.

“He’s doing excellent with therapy,” Berta said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s great to have him home.”

After his grand entrance, Eugenio, who can now move his hands and head, was greeted by each of the players on both teams during introductions, which led to more tears. The Whalers wore #AS9 on their left sleeves.

“It’s a good feeling,” said his older brother, Austin, now a senior goalie for Johnson and Wales. “It’s good for him to see his friends again and get a change of scenery.”

“It was very emotional,” added GNB Voc-Tech coach Henry Andrade. “There was a good five minutes of people crying, myself included. It’s like I told the kids: ‘Slow down, take a deep breath and let’s go out there and have fun.’”

Predictably, following the outpouring of emotion, the game itself started slowly until Greene tapped the ball to Antunes, who rocketed a low shot to the far post for a 1-0 New Bedford lead in the 14th minute.

“I was a little bit worried because we were a little sad,” Macaroco said. “The kids really worked hard and we did it for him today. ... After that first goal we settled down and started playing our brand of soccer.”

In the 36th minute, Eathan DeMelo blasted a perfect centering pass through to air to Greene, who rose above the din in the box and decisively headed it home.

“He’s very impressive,” Andrade said of Greene. “He’s fast. You can’t teach speed. You can teach everything except speed. He’s a very smart player. Plus, the speed helps.”

When it was all over, the teams came together again. The Bears’ leading scorer, Michael Garcia, who has seven goals in six games but was shut out on Saturday, took off his kit to reveal an #AndrewStrong No. 9 shirt underneath.

“Tragedy happens,” Macaroco said, “but it’s a lesson you have to live every day to the fullest and try to enjoy it as much as you can.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2xPHeT8

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Information from: The (New Bedford, Mass.) Standard-Times, http://www.southcoasttoday.com

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