LUTZ — By Friday's night's sunset, the football stadium at Steinbrenner High will be filled with hundreds of students, teachers and fans, all wearing ''Team Greco'' T-shirts for the Warriors district game against Tampa Bay Tech. Appropriately manufactured in yellow with blue trim, the school's colors, the shirt's centerpiece features an image of a young boy, Greco, in a wrestling stance.
Only few students have actually met Greco, but by kickoff at 7:30 p.m., all will know his story.
Nearly two months ago to the day, 2-year-old Greco Roman Bouzakis was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an inoperable and fatal brain stem cancer found in children. The initial diagnosis was a life expectancy of 11 months.
He'll turn 3 in November.
Bouzakis will be an honorary football captain at the game Friday night. He'll stand at the 50-yard line with Steinbrenner's team captains for the coin toss and with his parents and three older siblings, might spend time on the Steinbrenner sideline.
The idea and concept for the strong showing of support started with Steinbrenner head wrestling coach Paul Noble, who within the past year, formed a bond with the Bouzakis family. The families met at a youth wrestling training camp in the Tampa area. The Bouzakis family moved to the Tampa area from North Carolina last year and with no family in the area, have relied on their connections through wrestling.
Troy Bouzakis, Greco's father, will be a volunteer coach with the Steinbrenner varsity wrestling team this season.
The initial plan was to form a wrestling tournament in honor of Greco this season, but Noble said the timeframe to organize such an event was too short.
“We felt like this was an opportunity for our community to open its arms up to this family and say, 'Hey, you have this support group and we're willing to help you,'” Noble said.
A few weeks ago, Noble asked other coaches at Steinbrenner to get their athletes involved. Within two weeks, Noble sold 500 shirts. He's expecting to sell 600 by the end of Friday, and shirts will be available for purchase at the gate. At $5 per shirt, all proceeds will go toward helping the Bouzakis family.
The football players will wear their shirts under their pads and jerseys.
“Noble approached me and we jumped on the opportunity to make it a special night,” said Steinbrenner football coach Andres Perez.
Troy and Toni Bouzakis, Greco's parents, were humbled by the outpouring of support from the school.
“This is an incredible thing they're doing for us in such a short time,” Troy Bouzakis said. “This will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”
“It really is such a kind gesture,” Toni Bouzakis said, “for kids to buy a shirt for a child they don't even know and have that type of compassion for a stranger.”
The school's culinary program has prepared a lunch for the family today, which they'll share with some of the faculty. To their principal's delight, the students have become a living representation of the late and famed New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, of which the school is so named, who gave generously to charities throughout his life, especially in the Tampa area.
“I'm really proud of them,” said Steinbrenner principal Kelly King, who has also purchased a shirt. “It really epitomizes a sense of family which we try to encourage and promote within our community.”
Named after the original Olympic style of wrestling, Greco Roman comes from proud lineage of wrestlers. Troy Bouzakis was junior All-American and three-time high school champion in New York with a record of 172-2. He went on to win an ACC championship for Clemson in 1991 before his career was shortened by injury. The tradition of wrestling success continues in Troy's children, with 7-year-old Vince Bouzakis being the reigning southeast region Greco Roman champion for his weight class. Troy and Toni obviously had high expectations for their youngest, Greco.
“We're planning for a miracle,” Toni Bouzakis said. “He was given a strong name, he's a strong boy and he comes from a strong family.”
Greco Roman is currently undergoing radiation treatment.
“Wrestling builds character that helps you control your opposition,” Troy Bouzakis said. “I built a character of strength and perseverance. It's been one of the things I don't have control over.”
The hope tonight is to shine a positive light on a family battling a harsh reality.
“It's about giving him this memory and a celebration of life,” Perez said.