In the Holy Trinity of Waterford High School sports, there is Francis X. Sweeney, Gerry Rousseau and Dick Cipriani. And the list of apostles wouldn't be complete without the guy who occasionally signs his emails, "L-Train."
That's the inimitable Mike Loper, a 1994 graduate of the school and former assistant baseball coach. Mike Loper loves the piece of real estate at 20 Rope Ferry Road as no other. And this is the time that Loper, always there for everyone else in Lancer Blue, needs help.
Loper, 37, born with Cerebral Palsy, has spent the last few weeks raising funds to make his home more accessible. He's been unable to live an active lifestyle since undergoing spinal fusion surgery eight years ago to help relieve symptoms of Cerebral Palsy.
Loper said he needs somewhere around $50,000 for the project. In conjunction with the Connecticut Tigers and United Cerebral Palsy of Eastern Connecticut, the process is underway.
Loper will get half of the ticket proceeds for the Tigers' game against Lowell (the Class A Red Sox) July 21 at Dodd Stadium. Ticket sales began at the Waterford South Little League opening last week.
Loper applied for the freshman softball job at his alma mater in 1997. He didn't get it. It turned into one of his life's great blessings. He got to spend the next decade as an assistant coach under Jack O'Keefe, who won four state championships and provided Loper a ride in the figurative sense that went well beyond all the days the kids pushed Loper's wheelchair through fields across the state.
"'Lope' and Waterford High were always the perfect match," O'Keefe said. "People look at him in a lot of different ways. But nobody loved Waterford High or the baseball program more. He cared more than everybody."
He was also educational. High school kids don't always know what to say to a person in a wheelchair. They soon discovered the answer: Exactly what you'd say to the rest of your friends. Loper was always one of the guys.
"The kids learned a lot from him," O'Keefe said. "They learned all the things someone in his situation could do."
Loper said his favorite memory from his coaching days was O'Keefe's first state title in 1998. That and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the seniors' last home game in a few years later. Loper stood from his wheelchair.
But the surgery in 2006, in Loper's words, "didn't go as planned," thus making a more accessible home a necessity.
Loper and members of UCP will attend the Tigers' game on July 21 to take donations and talk with fans interested in helping his cause. The Tigers will also hold a ceremonial first pitch honoring everyone who helped with the effort. Mad props and bon mots to the Tigers, whose willingness to help Loper (and open Dodd Stadium to many high schools and colleges this spring) indicate this is a franchise that gets it.
Tickets for the game are available at Sportees (Waterford), Picardi's Pub (Waterford), Angie's Pizza (Mystic) and at Dodd Stadium.
Even if all tickets are sold, though, Loper won't reach his goal. If you are so inclined to donate more, you may do so at the ballpark that night or through the Cactus Jack Foundation.
"Cactus Jack," otherwise known as Edwin Evento, died of cancer in 1977, after leading a life that took him from Hollywood, as a western movie stunt man, to Waterford, where he lived, and served, for 42 years. In the town's pantheon of philanthropists, Cactus Jack hit cleanup.
In Cactus Jack's memory comes the foundation, a non-profit charitable organization to aid individuals, families and other charitable associations. It has provided toys and money to various charities at holidays, co-sponsored the Strides For The Handicapped road race, given wheelchairs to people who need them when insurance won't cover the cost. It built a handicap-accessible ramp at Camp Harkness and raised thousands of dollars when former Waterford High baseball player Tyler Dyer was severely injured on a family vacation.
And there is no better, or more appropriate cause for the foundation than to help out a guy who bleeds Lancer Blue.
The foundation will accept donations for Loper's cause at P.O. Box 145, Waterford, 06385.
It's a Saturday night game in mid summer. Should be a great night. Mike Loper was always there for his guys in Lancer Blue. Now it's their turn to be there for him.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.