By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Imagine being a football player where, every time you went to block your opponent, it felt like your wrist and arms were breaking.
Port Charlotte High School’s Andrew Bennett doesn’t need to imagine it because that’s exactly what happens to him.
Bennett, a tight end for the Pirates, was diagnosed with scleroderma in January, which is an autoimmune disease that causes a hardening of the skin and connective tissue. It affects only roughly 300,000 people in America, according to the disease’s official website.
“I couldn’t get down in the push-up position without it hurting, so I went to the doctor,” Bennett said.
That was back in January. Bennett had just finished recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus, which initially led to a misdiagnosis of his condition.
“They thought that it was just scar tissue from being on crutches after knee surgery,” he said. “Then I went to a Rheumatologist, and they did blood work and found my white blood cell count was too high.”
The scleroderma currently only affects Bennett in his wrists and his arms, and, thanks to medicine and physical therapy, it hasn’t spread beyond. There is currently no cure for scleroderma, but if it spreads to his organs, it could be life threatening.
Despite the severe pain, it hasn’t stopped him from playing football.
“I have a lot of respect for Andrew,” Port Charlotte coach Jordan Ingman said. “He works a job, plays football and never makes excuses even though he’s had some tough medical issues he’s had to deal with. He’s always here on time, and gives great effort. He carries more with him than most young men his age have to.
“He starts at tight end for us, and that’s a testament to his mental toughness. He gets treatment on Saturdays where it can make him very fatigued. On Mondays it’s very hard for him coming off those treatments, but he’s still here everyday working just as hard as our other guys.”
Actually, according to his mom, Deanna Mitchell, it’s playing football and being active which helps the disease from spreading, even though it does cause him some pain.
“I said to him one day ‘your arms feel like tree trunks. You could hurt somebody,’” Mitchell said. “He told me ‘actually, mom it hurts me more than it hurts them. It feels like my arm breaks every time I hit someone.’”
To help relieve the pain, he gets his wrists taped up before every game in order to keep them from bending further than he can stand.
Each case of scleroderma is different. It seems as if no two patients are affected in the same way. Bennett will have test results come back in the next few days and few weeks which will help determine whether or not it’s spreading beyond his arms, but he and his family are preparing just in case it does.
“It’s been a reality check and wake up call,” Bennett said. “He’s played sports since he was 5 years old. His goal was to play college football. When he was diagnosed with this, he needed to figure out a career he can do. He might not have the fine motor skills most people have.
“Right now we’re going through a transition-to-work program with the Department of Labor. It helps figure out what kind of condition he’ll be in 10 years, and wants to make sure he goes to college for something he will be able to do if it gets worse.”
With all of the physical therapy appointments, specialists, tests and scans, it has become a hefty financial burden, but the support of the Port Charlotte community has helped eased thing.
Bennett’s girlfriend, Danielle Ferrentino, has not only started a GoFundMe account online, but also collects money and sells shirts at the Pirate football games as well as the Port Charlotte Pop Warner games.
PCHS has also set up a fund where people can donate.
“I am overwhelmed (from the support),” said Mitchell, who believes roughly $2,000 has been collected so far. “I’m not used to people helping out. I’m used to being the one who helps other people. For us to be in this situation, it’s tremendous the amount of people who have shown support. I never thought our family would be in this situation. I’m speechless.”
How can you help out? There are a few ways.
You can mail a check to Port Charlotte High School at 18200 Cochran Blvd., Port Charlotte, FL 33948. If you put “Andrew Bennett” in the note of the check, the school will make sure it gets to the appropriate fund they have set up.
You can also find Ferrentino at Port Charlotte football games, as she goes around to help collect money.
Or you can donate directly to the GoFundMe account she has set up, which can be found at GoFundMe.com/2qshc5g.
Name School Comp. Att. Per. Yards TD INT
Dee Hicks Charlotte 30 48 62.5% 586 7 1
Hayden Wolff Lemon Bay 44 107 41.1% 519 1 5
Devon Allen North Port 42 112 37.5% 507 5 2
Paul Barnes Port Charlotte 15 24 62.5% 332 4 0
Name School Att. Yards YPC TD
Maleek Williams Charlotte 75 715 9.5 12
Brayden Curry Lemon Bay 117 536 4.6 4
Ernest Harvey Port Charlotte 45 335 7.4 2
Shawn Campbell Port Charlotte 52 335 6.4 7
Davon Keyes Port Charlotte 47 306 6.5 1
Marc Jean-Louis Port Charlotte 25 289 11.5 1
D’Vonte Price Charlotte 9 278 30.8 4
Javon Howell North Port 68 261 3.8 2
Octavious Cummings North Port 43 239 5.6 1
Dee Hicks Charlotte 16 202 12.6 5
Name School Att. Yards YPR TD
Ernest Harvey Port Charlotte 7 198 28.2 1
C.K. Poulos North Port 14 189 13.5 3
Victor Mellor Lemon Bay 16 170 10.6 1
Logan Lydic Lemon Bay 14 165 11.7 0
Andrew Grace Charlotte 8 143 17.8 2
Skylar Razwilavich North Port 10 140 14.0 1
Jacob White Charlotte 5 127 25.4 1
Andrew Bosma North Port 7 116 16.5 1
D’Vonte Price Charlotte 4 115 28.7 2
Power of three
Five receptions for 50 yards is a modest day for Poulos, but it was his two touchdowns which were huge for the Bobcats. He now has 189 receiving yards on the season, good enough for second-best in the area.
After a slow start to the season, Curry has rushed for 80 or more yards in each of the last four games for the Manta Rays. His 124 yards were a team high on Friday, and now has 536 rushing yards on the season.
Mellor can do it all. Run. Throw. Catch. Tackle. It doesn’t matter to him, but it was his rushing ability last week which brought him to this list. He totaled 99 yards on nine carries, including a 40-yard run. He also added a pair of catches for 28 yards.