The Timber Creek football program may have made its best play before the spring football game even started.
Prior to the intrasquad game just over a week ago, the Falcons gathered together to recognize a freshman player who never got into a game this past season.
But the encased and autographed football presented to Joseph Pina, grouped with the freshman team photo, may exemplify more about teamwork than the team learned during the course of the season.
Pina, 15, had to divert his attention from football practices and games to battle two forms of cancer.
During his routine physical prior to participation last summer, Pina was told he may have varioceles, an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, similar to a varicose vein found in the leg. The physicians said it was benign enough that Pina could continue with football and deal with treatment later.
But prior to the first game of the football season, Pina sustained a spiral fracture of a finger and had to sit out. That fortuitous break allowed an opportunity to address the other medical issue.
As the medical treatment ensued, it was learned Pina also had Rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, a type of cancer of connective tissues.
Pina recounted the day he discovered his right testicle felt rock-like and not normal. He has a close relationship with his mother, Sally Graham, but he debated over the course of the next few hours, as to whether he could bring himself to tell his mother about it.
“I didn’t know whether to tell my mom or not,” Pina said of the normally difficult subject matter for a teenage boy. “Do I tell her, or don’t I?”
The ability to talk openly may have saved his life.
“We went to the doctor and I asked him, ‘Is it cancer?’ I think it is,” Pina said prior to the urologist even responding.
In fact, it was a germ cell tumor and Pina’s testicle was removed.
The occurrence of two rare cancers in such a young patient at the same time are beyond comprehension, said Graham.
Pina is now into his fifth week of his 14th regimen of chemotherapy and has his good days and his bad days. Each round of chemo seems to cause varied reactions in Pina, which he battles head-on with great courage and an up-beat disposition.
The ability to have teammates support him in his journey have been invaluable, Pina said.
Graham also notes the “bros” have been with him all along the way and don’t let Pina act like a cancer patient.
Jacob Knipping and Kyle Williams “don’t give him any sympathy,” said Pina’s mother.
Pina said he has no “poor me” mentality and knows that “God has his back.”
Another example of what the family sees as God’s guidance was using a delay in starting chemotherapy as an opportunity for Pina being able to have sperm frozen for future use, as he wants to be a father someday.
Pina has had to be home-schooled to keep up with his studies, but finds a few days each week to get up to Timber Creek to see his classmates.
The separation from his friends and teammates made the presentation prior to the spring game even more appreciated.
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Pina said, but his friends couldn’t help but point out the encased football with some 200 signatures before the event. “I was also able to break the group,” Pina said, using the phrase “Family” to disperse the huddled team prior to the scrimmage.
Pina has hopes of getting back into MAC (Make a Champion) Camp to get back on track in his conditioning during the summer, should he feel up to it.
Those wishing to keep up with Pina, can access the Facebook page, “Prayers for Joe Pina.”