There is only one place you will ever, ever find Fabio serving as a stand-in for Matt Damon.

There is only one place you will ever, ever find Fabio serving as a stand-in for Matt Damon.

That would be at an Ashland High boys tennis match.

In what surely must rub against the grain of a community proud of its performing arts, the Grizzlies have eschewed Shakespeare and adopted Fabio as their mascot.

Shakespeare is the one who inspired the world-famous festival. Fabio is the dashing male fashion model with long blond locks who has graced hundreds of romance novel covers, had a recurring role in "The Bold and The Beautiful" and starred in "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" commercials.

Where Ashland goes, Fabio goes.

Or, at least, his likeness does as a life-sized cardboard cutout.

"Yeah," says junior Alex Harris, a Grizzlies team captain who is Fabio's guardian, "that's the first thing we do is set him up."

He'll stand on his own, or prop against a fence, or sit in the window of an indoor facility, overlooking all the courts.

And, shockingly, this isn't a recent development. The Fab has been their fave for four years, much to the chagrin of coach Dick Streng.

There have been two versions of Fabio. The first is rumored to have mysteriously suffered water damage while in Streng's garage.

When Fabio II came along, Streng thought it would disappear when its caretaker, Andrew Cataldo, graduated last year and left for Gonzaga College in Spokane, Wash.

"Then all of sudden," says Streng, "one day at practice he was back on the team."

The coach pauses, then sneers of Fabio, "He'll probably earn a letter this year."

So why Fabio?

And what role does Matt Damon have in this?

Damon actually was supposed to have the mascot lead, says Cataldo, who, as a sophomore, turned an inside joke into what is destined to become tradition.

Jon Weighter was a junior teammate of Cataldo's and a big fan of Damon's. When Team America, a quirky movie starring crass, puppet-like characters, came out, Weighter loved it and was beside himself because there was a Matt Damon figure who repeatedly shouted "Matt Damon!"

Cataldo didn't let opportunity pass. He set out to find a Matt Damon likeness, first at movie theaters, then online.

"I tried to find a cardboard cut-out," says Cataldo. "I thought it'd be hilarious. But all I could find was Fabio and Jesus. I felt Fabio would be less offensive to carry around."

He took up a collection from teammates and made the purchase.

"It ticked off our coach so much that we enjoyed it even more," he laughs.

Fabio has been in enough sticky situations to qualify as a sitcom star, too.

There was No. 1's mysterious destruction.

And one time a Marshfield coach called for Fabio's removal as he perched above indoor courts, overseeing matches and causing a distraction, the coach reportedly said.

And the time Churchill players, uh, confiscated Fabio and took him back to Eugene with them. It took a while, but Streng retrieved the mascot from the Lancers' coach.

When Ashland played Churchill on Friday, the Grizzlies had extra motivation and defeated the tough opponent, 5-3.

That in itself is surprising because the attention of the Ashland players was diverted.

"We were keeping a sharp eye on Fabio to make sure they didn't take him again," says Harris.

Cataldo and Harris both insist their dynamic friend has special powers.

"You just stare in his eyes and you can see it," says Harris.

Even Streng grudgingly admits, "He's like a spirit, a good spirit for the Ashland Grizzlies."

Cataldo was convinced during a match at Roseburg. He and his partner, Jeff Laskos, finished their doubles match early and started watching Weighter and Kyle Lachmund, Ashland's No. 1 tandem.

"They were struggling," says Cataldo, "and I told Jeff, 'We have to go get Fabio.'"

The next time Weighter and Lachmund looked over, they couldn't help but laugh.

"Their game started improving," says Cataldo. "They took it a little less seriously and it helped them pull out a win."

With that kind of influence, it's safe to say that Fabio has found a home.

"He'll be here for a long time," says Harris. "I'll pass him on to someone next year, and the tradition will go on."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com