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BEACON FALLS — Nick Oliveira shouted both encouraging and not-so-uplifting messages toward his teammates on the soccer practice field before Woodland’s Class M second-round tournament game last Monday.
The Woodland senior is the manager of the boys soccer team. And he’s only the manager because he can’t play the sport he loves.
Oliveira has cerebral palsy, which requires him to either walk with crutches or use his electric wheelchair. But his physical limitations haven’t kept him from being as much a part of the team as anyone else.
When Oliveira was a freshman, he approached head coach Tony Moutinho about helping the team in any way he could. The rest is history.
“He found immediately a way for me to be a part of the team,” Oliveira says. “And our relationship and chemistry have just grown from there. Now it’s like I’m his right-hand man.”
For as important as soccer is to Oliveira—“it runs in my blood,” he says—Moutinho says his enthusiastic and vocal manager is just as crucial to the Hawks.
“He’s my backbone,” Moutinho says. “He’s my assistant and I run plays through him. Sometimes he agrees and disagrees. Usually I follow his advice. He’s very knowledgeable about the game.”
Oliveira’s helpfulness to Moutinho on the sideline is second only to the manager’s dedication to the team.
“He’s here every single game, every single practice,” Moutinho says. “He hasn’t missed one in all four years he’s been our manager. He inspires all our players.”
Inspiration often comes in the form of some tough love from Oliveira. It worked this season, as Woodland won its first Naugatuck Valley League championship and put together an 18-1-1 overall record.
“I’m harder on them than Tony is sometimes because I can’t play and I want to play so bad,” Oliveira says. “When I see it I let them know so they don’t do it again.”
Even though Oliveira might be critical sometimes, he’s really just one of the guys.
“I just see Nick as almost a player on the team, except he doesn’t play on the team,” senior captain Matt Moutinho says. “He’s always there. When we get on the bus, we always ask, ‘Where’s Nick?’ He’s just another guy on the team to me.”
“These guys are great,” Oliveira says. “They accepted me right from the beginning. It’s been a wonderful relationship ever since day one. And here we are, four years later.”