For someone so adept at scoring goals on the soccer pitch, a successful assist will be the only thing on the mind today of South Medford High junior Humberto Alvarez.
An all-state caliber soccer star, Alvarez's role as an all-world caliber brother will take center stage at Portland's Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
To assist 5-year-old brother Marco, who has been sick with lymphoma and battling its affects for two years now, Humberto will take part in a bone marrow transplant today in hopes it will provide a reversal of fortunes for his little brother.
The procedure also means Humberto will likely miss most of the Panthers' soccer season, with absolutely no contact allowed for at least two weeks and a slow, steady recovery process to follow.
Whatever time may be lost, Humberto has made it clear that it's a small price to pay to help Marco, who has been undergoing chemotherapy and various treatments the past two years after originally finding a mass under one of his armpits. When Humberto found out he was a match as a potential donor, he gave an immediate "Yes," noting that he'd "do it in a heartbeat" if it meant helping out his little brother.
"It's kind of a big deal but he made such a light deal out of it," says South Medford boys soccer coach Dave Kaufman. "He just kinda swept it under the rug when he first talked to me about it."
Early in the summer, Humberto sent an innocent text asking his coach when the state playoffs were slated to start this fall.
"I was thinking it was kinda odd being that early in the summer to be worried about when playoffs start," says the coach. "I was thinking he might have a conflict or something since he plays on the regional level and national-level teams, too, so I just sent back a text that said, 'What makes you ask?'"
The reply wasn't nearly what Kaufman expected to receive, but didn't surprise him at all given Humberto's huge heart.
"This doesn't happen every day, especially to a high school athlete like this who is basically sacrificing his season," says Kaufman. "They're all just good people, and Marco's just a cute little bugger."
The boys' mother has been staying up in Portland with Marco as he has been weaned off the chemotherapy to prepare for today's transplant. Their dad has driven up and down I-5 as much as possible around his work commitments.
In order to fulfill Humberto's desire to play a couple games this past weekend in Bend for South Medford, Kaufman agreed to drive him up to Portland right after the Panthers' game Saturday so he could begin preparations Sunday for the surgery.
All Humberto did in his final game before surgery was score two goals and assist another in a 3-3 tie against Mountain View. A day prior, he had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Bend.
Humberto led the Panthers with 14 goals and six assists last year in his sophomore campaign, and he was a key part of the team's runner-up state finish in 2009. He's been named to the Oregon Developmental Pool Region IV grouping, essentially a list of the best and brightest soccer players on the West Coast.
Losing such a player for any amount of time is never a good thing, but Kaufman and company wouldn't have it any other way given the circumstances.
"It'll be OK," says the coach. "Somebody will step up and respond in his absence. It will probably take a combination of players to help fill his void because he's been playing very well for us."
To harvest Humberto's bone marrow, which is the soft, fatty tissue inside bones, doctors will make a few small incisions through the skin and stick a hollow needle in his bones — generally the pelvic bones — and use an attached syringe to draw out the marrow. While his recovery time should include close to two weeks in the hospital, Humberto likely won't be fit to play soccer again for another four to six weeks as his marrow regenerates and his body regains strength.
Still, to give his brother a second chance at a healthy life, Humberto is unflinching in his dedication to the procedure. A brother's love, after all, knows no bounds.
TO HELP THE ALVAREZ family, an account at Wells Fargo branches in the name of Marco Antonio Alvarez has been set up for donations to offset the many expenses undertaken by the family during the past two years.
BLACK AND BLUE GAME fans are being asked to purchase their tickets for Friday's big game between North Medford and South Medford online this year and not wait to buy them at the stadium gate or the schools' activities offices.
To purchase reserved-seat tickets for either grandstand at Spiegelberg Stadium, go to www.medford.k12.or.us and select either North Medford or South Medford under the "Schools" drop-down menu. Once at the appropriate school, a click on "Athletics" provides access to purchase tickets online.
North Medford is the home team for Friday's game, so reserved seats will be available for its fans in the main grandstand closer to Central High.
As the visitor, South Medford followers will be able to secure reserved seats in the visitor grandstand — a season-long benefit made possible by the online process.
Ticket prices range from $7 for general admission ($6 at the stadium on game day) to $9 for reserved seats and $16 for skybox seats. The student ticket price is $4 and only available for purchase at the school or stadium.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry