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Tim O

Todd Cote a valuable presence as John Stark basketball manager

  • John Stark basketball team manager Todd Cote puts on his headphones and dances before the team left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.  Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team.  Cote always dances before games to get pumped up.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    John Stark basketball team manager Todd Cote puts on his headphones and dances before the team left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team. Cote always dances before games to get pumped up.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark team manager Todd Cote gives senior Cam Williams a hug as the team was practicing before they left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.  Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    John Stark team manager Todd Cote gives senior Cam Williams a hug as the team was practicing before they left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark basketball team manager Todd Cote puts on his headphones and dances before the team left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.  Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team.  Cote always dances before games to get pumped up.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark team manager Todd Cote gives senior Cam Williams a hug as the team was practicing before they left for their game at Hanover on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.  Cote, who has Down syndrome, has been the team's manager for 18 seasons, and this will likely be his last year with the team.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Life lessons can hit you from all angles. My Aunt Margo, who had Down syndrome, blessed me with plenty of lessons, none greater than her example of unconditional love. When I would misbehave as a kid, or even as a man, Margo would give a stern look or shake a scolding finger, but she would always follow up with, “Love you anyway.”

The John Stark boys’ basketball team has been getting similar lessons ever since 1996. That’s when Todd Cote, who also has Down syndrome, became the Generals’ team manager.

“We can be down by 20 points and Todd will come in the locker room smiling and he’s just like, ‘Oh, hey,’ and that makes everyone happy and we’ll be right back in it,” said Stark senior Cam Williams. “He just keeps our spirits up all the time. It’s awesome having him around.”

The players aren’t the only ones who receive unconditional love and support from Cote, 35, who graduated from John Stark in 1999.

“The times that really mean the most to me with Todd are at the end of the season,” said Mike Smith, who was Stark’s junior varsity coach from 1997-99 and has been the head varsity coach since 2000. “I’m usually feeling a little bad for the guys after their last game, and so I’ll talk to them after that game and then go collapse in a corner, and Todd will be the guy that comes over and gives me a hug. He’s very sensitive and very emotionally aware and intelligent, and he’ll come over at just the right moment and say, ‘Hey, buddy, you’re my best friend.’

“If athletics is about teaching players life lessons, than I think what Todd brings to our program is just as important as anything they learn from me or learn on the court.”

The relationship is reciprocal. Cote’s world revolves around Stark basketball, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. As soon as the schedule is released, he marks every game on his calendar. He prepares his clothes – dressy for away games, more casual for home – before the season. He keeps his own scorebook for both the JV and varsity games, rides on the team bus for away games and performs some basic managerial duties, like corralling the basketballs during warmups. He is one of the Generals.

“Each season Todd is able to be one of the guys, which is all any of us want,” said Brian Cote, Todd’s father. “I think being the manager is the most important thing in his life at this point. It’s just been an amazing experience for him.”

Life lessons and sense of belonging aside, there’s one simple reason the Generals have been blessed with such a great manager for all these years.

“It’s fun,” Todd said. “I have a great time with them.”

Stark basketball may be at the center of Cote’s life, but it’s not the only place he has fun. He’s active in Special Olympics and will be competing in the snowshoeing events Sunday through Tuesday at Waterville Valley with his team, the Artful Dodgers. Before he was snowshoeing, Cote was a powerlifting champ at the Special Olympics. He finished first in the New England Championships in 1993 and 1994 and set a U.S. record for total weight in the squat, bench and dead lift when he was first in the 198-pound division at the International Powerlifting Association national championships in 1997.

“I liked lifting weights a lot, I did it with my best friend, Josh Sanborn,” said Cote, who likes talking about his friends more than talking about himself. “We would get psyched, get focused, and sometimes we would cry after meets because our feelings are right on top. And Josh had a haircut that said, ‘The Beast’ in it, and he made up a crazy dance, too, it was really cool, you would love it.”

Cote has also been a member of the Concord Adult Rec Club for challenged citizens for the last nine years, has been going to Camp Fatima in Gilmanton Iron Works for special needs week since he was 10, and has been going to Camp Allen in Bedford for 13 years. He’s also been volunteering at the Bel Air nursing home in Goffstown since 1999.

When he’s not busy with any of those activities, Cote travels. He has visited sunny international locales like Tortola, St. Croix and the Bahamas. He’s been around the country with his father for both business (Brian travels for his company, UWH Industries) and pleasure, going to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Niagra Falls, Myrtle Beach, Houston, Charlotte and more. And he’s been all over Florida, which is where his mother, Debra Cote, lives.

“We go back and forth to Florida probably eight times a year,” Brian said. “Todd could probably be a tour guide at the Orlando airport he knows his way around there so well.”

Some time in the next year or two Todd will move to Florida on a permanent basis. He’s been accepted to live in an assisted living facility that is currently under construction near his mother’s home in Palm Bay. He’s excited about living on his own and all the activities available at the facility, but he’s not looking forward to leaving his basketball team.

“He’s already told me he has to take a two-week vacation every winter to come back and watch some games,” Brian said.

My Aunt Margo passed away in November. Her lessons aren’t forgotten, but the living presence of unconditional love is missed. And even though Todd will visit his Generals after he leaves for Florida, the lack of his everyday loving presence will leave a void.

“I can’t imagine a Stark basketball team without Todd,” Williams said. “It won’t be the same without him.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

Beautiful. Thank you, Tim. Thank you, Aunt Margo. Thank you, Todd.

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