The clock kept running.
So did John Esposito.
Or “Spo,” as friends call him.
His last race for Somers High was 100 meters at the Westchester County Track & Field Championships.
He didn’t run straight. He didn’t run fast. But he ran — as he always did — straight into the crowd’s heart, earning warm cheers.
John Esposito’s high school sports calendar was full.
He managed the football team and boys basketball team, ran the 100 and threw the shot put for the spring track team. He kept up his grades and is now deciding among three colleges to study business or finance.
He did this despite being blind.
John, 17, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 4, started losing his vision in middle school to optic atrophy. It’s a congenital affliction shared by his eldest brother, Joe, 24. Middle brother, Michael, 21, does not have it.
“There’s no medication,” their dad, Joe, said. “There’s nothing they can do.”
He said doctors disagree about whether diabetes is a root cause.
John’s eyesight has deteriorated to the point he sees only shadows. Originally, he began having problems with peripheral vision. But he could still play sports. Chief among them was his first love, basketball, which he played until eighth grade.
He wasn’t the best player but he was one of those 100-percent, 100-percent-of-the-time kids.
“He always made the most out of what he was able to do. He always gave everything,” said Somers varsity boys basketball coach Chris DiCintio, who has known John since John was little.
John dove at the chance when DiCintio asked him manage his team.
Senior night, John was given a uniform and was part of the starting unit against Panas.
John had practiced layups from the same spot on the floor all week. He missed the first couple he tried. When the next went in, the gym exploded.
The crowd yelled, “Johnny Spo! Johnny Spo!” DiCintio recalled.
Panas was cheering, too.
“It was really touching,” DiCintio said.
John made a big impression on the kids around him. DiCintio said his own son (also Chris), who’ll attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice, made John the subject of his college entrance essay.
Because of his poor vision, John couldn’t do everything most team managers do. But in some ways he did more.
In one basketball game, Somers trailed at the half. John heard DiCintio and three assistants talking about making adjustments to ignite the misfiring offense.
John approached DiCintio, asking whether he’d consider using two new plays DiCintio had his team recently practice.
DiCintio ran with that suggestion.
“It sparked the team,” DiCintio said.
Somers won and John was named its player of the game.
“He’s a special kid,” DiCintio said, adding kids took “Johnny under their wing but not in a pity way, more as compassionate.”
“He came to be an inspiration to me and to everyone in the school,” football coach Tony DeMatteo said. “His resiliency and demeanor just inspired everyone. If I had a bad day, it made me change my tune.”
One of DeMatteo’s favorite memories is John standing at the 50-yard line with Tusker team captains for the coin toss before the 2016 State Championship in the Syracuse Carrier Dome.
Somers went on to defeat Greece Athena for the title.
Earlier that season, the Tuskers were coming off a stinging 21-point loss to Yorktown and playing John Jay-Cross River. In the locker room before the game, DeMatteo told his players, “I want Johnny Spo to go home tonight so happy he can’t sleep.”
“The kids went berserk clapping,” he said.
Somers won in a romp.
Maybe they would have, anyway. Maybe not.
But John, who won the 12th Man Award at this year’s Section 1 dinner, had an impact that transcended the scoreboard.
Once the spring came around, John shifted his focus to competing inside of the lines.
“Track was the one sport he could compete in,” said Somers track and field coach Mike Sokolofsky. “He got really excited about it. It showed (his teammates) what life is about. Anything they might go through, you can deal with it. It really brought such a good attitude to the team.”
And John was not just a positive presence, but also a funny one.
Classmate Greg Fusco, who has known him since preschool, ran the 100-meter dashes behind him to help verbally steer him to the finish.
“He has never let it (his vision) get him down. He always has a smile on his face. He’s always looking to make people laugh,” Fusco said. “He’s always cracking jokes before races: ‘You’d better not slow me down.’”
“He called me during the (July 4 Coney Island) hot dog eating contest,” Sokolofsky said, chuckling. “He said, ‘This looks like something you’d be good at.’”
His dad just loved that he was always among friends and not home “wallowing in misery.
“John obviously has issues but he tries to be as normal as possible with his issues. His support from his friends is just off the charts,” his father said, adding he could list 20 kids who have been there for his son.
“I didn’t want to stay down. Other people can have worse problems. I still felt lucky,” John explained, adding of high school, “I didn’t really miss out on anything.”