EAST HAVEN >> Ali Cabrera and Mike Scoopo share a bond that goes much deeper than each day spent with the East Haven girls’ soccer team.
The two have been friends since the fifth grade. Scoopo has been friends with a number of players on the Yellowjackets’ team. That’s what made it easy for him to be the manager for his senior year.
Cabrera, a two-year starter on defense, likes having her friend nearby for moral support in this her final season in a East Haven uniform. With a 2-8-4 record, it hasn’t always been easy.
“We were upset about a (recent) loss,” Cabrera recalled. “He said if we needed to talk about it, we could go to him. He is very lovable, sweet, nice and very easy to get along with. He puts everyone in a better mood because he is always happy.”
Why is that bond much deeper than soccer? They both have succeeded by overcoming disabilities.
Cabrera, a tri-captain for East Haven, has done so despite the full use of her right hand. It’s been deformed since birth.
Scoopo, an athlete himself in Unified sports, endured a devastating bout with E.Coli at 5 that led to two strokes. It eventually led to him losing the ability to control both his arms and legs and his ability to speak.
“He was hospitalized for 50 days, which led to high blood pressure, which then caused the two strokes,” said Linda Scoopo, Mike’s grandmother. “It’s sort of an acquired cerebral palsy.”
But make no mistake, Scoopo can communicate. He uses a device called a Tobii in the classroom, communicating answers to questions by using his eyes. Among the classes Mike takes, two are in advanced placement.
He can text on an iPad with his toes at home. He can also communicate by using a sheet of paper with letters and numbers and touch each with his nose to let people know what he wants to say.
“Once you get to know Mike, you realize he is no different than anyone else,” East Haven girls soccer coach Ray Curren said.
Although he uses a power wheelchair to get around during school and at soccer games and practice, Linda said Mike doesn’t use it at home. He can also walk – and play Unified soccer – as long as someone is holding on to a gait belt, which is wrapped around his waist.
And whether it is a good or bad day, Scoopo is always smiling, whether in school or on the soccer field. And he is always willing to listen to his friends.
“I just try to hear them out sometimes, something everyone should try more often (with friends),” Scoopo said.
Said East Haven player Bethanny Scofield: “No matter what is going on, he always makes us stay positive on and off the field. He has a way of keeping our heads up. Mikey supports us through it all. He is a great manager and without him, things just wouldn’t be the same.”
Linda said unless he is “very, very sick,” Mike is always at school. “He doesn’t want to stay home from school. He doesn’t let anything stand in his way,” she said.
Said Cabrera: “He is not self-conscious or insecure.”
Yet Cabrera was both about her condition, called amniotic band syndrome, for most of her life. The condition is a congenital disorder caused by entrapment of fetal parts, normally either fingers, toes or even a limb, in fibrous amniotic bands while in utero.
“I honestly didn’t start to overcome it until this year,” Cabrera said. “In elementary school, I was fine with it. Once I got to middle school, I became more self-conscious. I’ve always cared about what people thought.”
But it was different while Cabrera was on the soccer field. “It has been the only place where I really didn’t care about my hand,” she said.
And while you don’t need to use your hands on the actual soccer field, you do use them for throw-ins from the sideline.
“I didn’t know until first scrimmage (last season) that Ali’s throw-ins had a weird spin. My assistant coach said, ‘You know she doesn’t have a right hand, right?'” Curren said.
Both Cabrera and Scoopo were on hand Oct. 11 to celebrate Senior Night. East Haven’s regular season will conclude on Friday.
Both Cabrera and Scoopo are on course to graduate in June. Cabrera would like to continue her soccer career. She said Albertus Magnus is a possible landing spot.
Scoopo is applying to Yale and New Haven through an organization called QuestBridge, which works with prospective students under a certain income level to be able to attend those colleges or universities. Scoopo hopes to one day enter the field of forensic science.
No matter where their future paths take them, Cabrera and Scoopo will remain friends, sharing a common bond that both will continue to overcome every single day.
“Mikey is just able to smile every day,” Cabrera said. “So people shouldn’t complain about the little things.”