By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — Every detail of May 1, 2012 is ingrained in the memory of Alexis Francavilla.
She remembers it all. Even the fact that it was a Tuesday.
Francavilla, who was in sixth grade at the time, had stepped off the bus that afternoon when she received a text message from her dad Mike. The text read: don’t come home. Not pretty.
Her mind immediately went to the worst, and in a few moments, the worst was about to be confirmed.
“Then I see this cop car speeding by the bus,” Francavilla said. “I followed the cop car, and my street was filled with cop cars and ambulances.”
It took a second to register in her head, but all those emergency vehicles were parked in front of her house. As soon as she realized, Francavilla began to sprint to her house.
Before she could get there, a police officer grabbed her and stopped her. Mike was coming out of the house at the same time.
He was crying. He never cries.
For Alexis, it confirmed her suspicions.
Her mother Kim Francavilla took her own life that day, leaving behind a husband of 14 years and two daughters.
“To this day, we’re really not sure why,” Mike said. “(Alexis’) mother had some problems in her youth… and struggled with that her whole life. I don’t know if it came to a point where she couldn’t take any of it anymore, but it was a complete shock.”
Alexis is now a junior at North Port High School, and is getting ready for the District 8A-12 volleyball tournament, which begins tomorrow for the Bobcats with a match against Riverdale at 7 p.m.
She wasn’t always a volleyball player, though. Back in 2012, she was heavily involved in playing softball, but without her mom, it just didn’t feel right anymore to play the sport they both loved.
“I stopped playing after that,” Francavilla said. “I played a tournament the weekend after she passed, and that was my last one. She was the one who always pushed me to play. It was a pretty big decision. She introduced me to it, but I knew I needed some time off.”
Francavilla couldn’t stay away from playing sports for very long. She was born to be an athlete.
Once seventh grade rolled around, Francavilla tried out for the basketball team. She was a natural, and it also helped she was a lot closer to the rim than anyone else on the court. When she began playing volleyball that year, the success wasn’t as immediate.
Then, in eighth grade, she joined the track and field team on the same day as one of the meets. According to Francavilla, she broke the school’s long jump record that first meet.
She has since fully immersed herself in those three sports, and will give serious contention at being named The Sun’s all-area player of the year in all three this year and next year.
Said Mike: “She’s always been a natural athlete, but it was a huge coping mechanism for her.”
Francavilla agrees, and says sports are like therapy for her.
“I think they’ve made me mentally stronger, and able to cope with my feelings a little better than I could without them,” she said. “All of my problems go away when I’m doing it. I don’t think about anything else. I pray before I play, and then I do what I have to do.”
There have been a plenty of factors to help both Alexis and Mike work through the tragedy which struck their family.
The softball community which she was once involved in was instrumental in helping the Francavilla’s in those initial weeks and months. The mothers of Alexis’ closest friends have also stepped up to help fill a void.
And, of course, the strength of each other and the father-daughter has been a major factor.
“He’s the reason I’m still pushing,” Alexis said of her father. “He hasn’t given up, and since he hasn’t given up, I know I can’t either.”
But there’s no doubt, sports have been the biggest component in the process of healing.
Because when Francavilla is on a court or a field, nothing else in the world matters.
Seed: No. 1
Record in District: 5-0
First match: Tuesday vs. Port Charlotte OR vs. Ida Baker; 7 p.m.
Outlook: The Tarpons had no problems running through their district schedule, sweeping every match which counted towards district-play. It would not be surprising to see them run the table in the tournament, and cruise to a regional appearance.
Seed: No. 3
Record in District: 4-2
First match: Monday vs. Cape Coral; 7 p.m.
Outlook: The first match against Cape Coral likely shouldn’t cause any problems for the Manta Rays. It’s the potential second-round match against North Fort Myers which should be the fun one. Lemon Bay won against the Red Knights in a tournament earlier in the year, but lost in the match counting for district-play. The Manta Rays caught a break by being on the opposite side of the bracket as Charlotte. Meaning, two wins and they make it to regionals.
Seed: No. 5
Record in District: 2-4
First match: Monday at Ida Baker; 7 p.m.
Outlook: This first-round match is likely going to be the best of any Monday/Tuesday matches in the area. This is a replay of the match between these two team last week, where the Bulldogs defeated the Pirates in five sets. The sting Port Charlotte is feeling from that lost hasn’t disappeared yet, so expect them to come out an play with a chip on their shoulder. There is bad new for both teams, though. Winner has to play Charlotte on Tuesday.
Seed: No. 3
Record in District: 0-4
First match: Tuesday at Riverdale; 7 p.m.
Outlook: The Bobcats are a talented team who struggled in district play during the regular season. In a three-team district, this game proves vital, as the winner automatically earns a berth to regionals. If they beat Riverdale on Tuesday, it likely won’t be in a three-set sweep, but as long as they come out of the gates with energy, there’s no reason to think they can’t win.