Nothin’ but smiles when it comes to support for South’s Tejada

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Nashua South's Nate Tejada is always positive despite battling cancer, especially after his Panthers beat North in the the baseball Battle of the Bridge.

Nashua High School North baseball coach Zach Harris, before meeting with his team after Saturday’s tough 7-2 loss at the hands of rival Nashua South, did something very unusual.

He walked across the diamond to where the rival Panthers were getting ready for their usual postgame huddle.

“Smiley,” he said, as he approached the always smiling Nate Tejada and gave him presumably a donation his Titans had raised in the stands during Saturday’s game.

Hugs all around. Applause. Awe. Respect.

South won the Battle of the Bridge on Saturday, but the real winner in all this was Tejada, the Panthers’ three sport senior athlete whose doctors wouldn’t let him play in Saturday’s game or any other South game this spring. Why? For the simple reason he’s battling cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma stage two, to be precise.

But only a kid like Tejada could turn his plight into the feel good story of the spring, because that’s what it is. The Panthers Saturday were wearing wristbands that Harris himself made up with the slogan printed on it “#nothingbutsmiles”.

Great stuff. Heck, they should have had him throw out the first pitch Saturday.

“He’s a wonderful kid,” Harris said. “I just wanted to do something nice for him, something simple. Great kid.”

You will not find anyone who will disagree. Tejada is the ultimate in positivity; thus his great nickname. When he discovered a huge lump on his neck the night before the wrestling Meet of Champions in late February and doctors gave him the cancer diagnosis, he didn’t blink. And Saturday, two-plus months later, was grinning ear to ear.

“Everything’s treatable, everything’s curable,” Tejada said he was told. “You’ve just got to take it day by day, and keep fighting.”

And he’s doing just that. He still works out, and he’s all set to head to Springfield College next year to wrestle.

The spring has been filled with tributes, fundraisers, etc. Heck, Tejada, who also played football for the Panthers, is so popular that even one of the lunch/cafeteria workers at South is putting together a basketball fundraiser for him in early June. How could you not love a kid nicknamed “Smiley”?

And what does he think of all the tributes and fundraising and overwhelming support he’s received?

“I’m extremely grateful for the whole community for being able to support me through my challenges,” he said. “There’s no words to express how I feel.”

The kid is genuine. He’s touched. Harris’s gesture, which which South coach James Gaj called “a class act”, was the best moment, we think, that Holman Stadium has seen in a long time. It won’t be forgotten.

Tejada won’t be forgotten when he goes to Springfield, either. He can’t wait. He’s got his last of five cycles of chemotherapy left, and will undergo radiation in the summer, “and that will hopefully go by fast.”

And then, he can just imagine how he’ll feel when he competes again, at Springfield.

“It’s going to be a relief,” he said. “As soon as I’m cleared, I’ll be out there.”

He still does basic lifting, nothing heavy, and he says he “listens to my body.”

And his mind is all the time screaming to get out on the field in this up-and-down South baseball season.

“Sometimes it’s, like, a little painful sometimes,” he said. “You want to be out there all the time, know what I mean? But you find the best out of it, just being rowdy, helping the team win. That’s my job now, so I have a good time doing that.”

“He does what he can,” Gaj said. “He’s been with us for four years and we love him.”

Why do people love this kid so much? Spend five minutes with him, you’ll find out. Hear him describe his mindset when he found out what he was going to have to deal with.

“Stay positive, keep fighting,” Tejada said. “There’s nothing I can do, you know what I mean? Just got to keep doing me. Nothing’s changed since then.”

Oh no, a lot has changed. Thanks to Tejada, an athletic community has become one.

With nothing but smiles.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.