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Trophy ball rewards player's fight to overcome polio

Jimmy Lupo was grateful for the baseball Walter Borla gave him when he was in the hospital.

Sun Advocate writer

In 1953 12 year old Jimmy Lupo of Helper was struck with the all but vanquished disease, polio. At the time this was serious condition which typically rendered it's victims paralyzed and doctors in Salt Lake told Lupo that if he was lucky enough to walk again, it would be with a cane. While this news was devastating to Jimmy, his then baseball coach Walt Borla came through for him, traveling to Denver with a baseball that he would have signed by baseball legends Yogi Berra, Nelson Fox, Eddie Lopat, Harvey King and numerous others.

"All of these guys made it to the Hall of Fame," recounts Lupo holding the baseball. "This ball inspired me, those players were really active in those days."

Walt or "Buck," as he known locally has been contributing to the sports section of the Sun Advocate since the 1950s, and started the Helper little league all-star team in 1952, a team that that included Lupo and would go on to Salt Lake turning heads the entire way.

"Buck designed our uniforms, they were so beautiful with blue and white stripes and Helper on the caps in blue," said Lupo. "When we got to Salt Lake, no one else had uniforms, we really stood out and there were so many people in the stands."

The Helper team however had an uphill battle because the three other teams present, one from Provo and two from Salt Lake had been in competition with each other all season and now had Helper in their sights.

"We beat Provo, but Buck really had to use his managing skills because it was an intense game, he pulled us over and says 'listen, do Helper proud'," remembered Lupo.

Although they lost the championship game, Lupo remained optimistic about the next year because he knew they would had a better shot at winning. However two weeks before the 1953 championship game, Lupo was diagnosed with polio and was rushed to Salt Lake for treatment.

Back then a trip from Helper to Salt Lake took nearly three hours and when Jimmy got to the LDS hospital there, as said above, the doctors were not hopeful for his condition. Lupo recounts his polio treatment procedures from being dumped into hot water, stretched three times a day, in addition to about about three to four hours of daily physical therapy.

When Buck heard about what happened to one of his players, he immediately headed out for Denver.

"Buck being the great man that he was, on October 11, 1953 goes to Eddie Lopat and had the whole team sign this ball, and came and presented it to me," said Lupo.

The ball reads "To Jimmy Lupo from Eddie Lopat's All-Stars, Denver Colorado Oct 11, 1953."

Lupo spent six months in the hospital with another four months learning how to walk again, and while he was never able to play baseball again, Lupo credits Buck with the fact that he can walk without braces or a cane.

Polio may have scared him, but he says he has learned to live with it and that to this day he can't imagine Helper without Buck.

"If more people were like Buck, we'd be in a better world," concluded Lupo.

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