Before every game, members of the Duxbury football team take a knee in the locker room and gather around honorary captain Mateo Goldman.
The 13-year-old Goldman, who has battled pediatric cancer since age 8, paces around the inner ring like a boxer and delivers an inspired pregame speech to invigorate the Dragons. His speeches often include the wisdom of a world leader, and he sometimes sprinkles in personal details about all he’s endured to make sure the message resonates.
He ends each one with a booming “Let’s go!” before his teammates mob him in unison. Goldman then screams “Strength!” and his teammates chime in “Honor, Liberty!”
“He knows exactly what to say to get us all fired up,” senior captain Bowman Rhinesmith said. “Everyone loves Mateo. He’s an amazing kid.”
He then runs out with his brother, Leo, a sophomore for the Dragons, and the rest of the squad. Goldman, who has attended every practice and game this season, will be there Friday at 7:30 p.m. as the second-seeded Dragons (10-1) face top-seeded Scituate (10-2) in the Division 4 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
Goldman, who has had two bone marrow transfers — including one from Leo — in the last four years, is currently in remission. At a checkup last Wednesday, doctors checked his lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, and blood and determined what his family and teammates already knew – he’s thriving.
“He’s not the oldest on the team or one of the biggest, but he’s undoubtedly the toughest and strongest,” senior captain Delby Lemieux said. “Every day, he comes to practice with a smile on his face and a positive spirit that has an effect on the entire team.”
When Leo first suggested the idea of his brother standing on the sideline for a game, Duxbury coach Matt Landolfi took it one step further. He proposed that Goldman come to every practice and every game, officially join the team, and give pep talks every Friday night.
That sounded like heaven to Goldman, who has had the opportunity to shave Rob Gronkowski’s head but had never been part of a high school team before. He takes his craft very seriously, investing hours into every speech from Monday through Friday to make sure he’s prepared for each game. They make him feel a sense of joy he wasn’t sure he’d ever experience again, and he wants to help return the favor as much as possible.
“It’s a great honor to be on the team,” Goldman said. “They make me feel really special, but at the same time, I feel like one of the guys.”
Landolfi praised Goldman for having an infectious smile that brightens up the room and said it’s easy to tell how much his teammates gravitate toward him. Watching someone who’s endured so much, yet still has so much undeniable energy and passion, helps them believe in one another and themselves.
For Goldman’s mother, Mandy, witnessing her son experience such pure and authentic bliss is beyond rewarding.
A year ago, they didn’t know if they would be together for Christmas, as her son was fighting for his life. Nearly a year later, watching him run onto the field as the Dragons dispatched Foxborough in the semifinals – exactly five years after he was first diagnosed – felt both surreal and immensely gratifying.
“Seeing him is like hope in action,” Mandy Goldman said. “It’s stories like this that guide us through our darkest moments. Seeing a child embraced by a community, being seen as super-human and smiling ear to ear, it’s been special on so many levels.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at email@example.com.