Point Loma High softball announcer Vincent Ghio provides lessons in surviving and thriving amid challenges
Vincent Ghio, 19, volunteers as a public address announcer for the Point Loma varsity and junior-varsity softball teams.
The 19-year-old, who has mild cerebral palsy and autism, is a public-address announcer for the Pointers.
When Vincent Ghio was in third or fourth grade, doctors shared with his parents, Helen and Chris, the medical staff’s distressing initial thoughts about the uncertain road ahead.
A virus carried by his mother damaged and created cysts on Vincent’s newborn brain. He soon began to show signs of mild cerebral palsy, autism and, later, stuttering.
Though the boy fell behind — crawling and walking seven months later than others his age, followed by exasperating struggles to speak — he charged ahead in the world, seemingly without fear or reservation.
The doctors, originally concerned about stifling hope, belatedly shared the dusty whispers and jarring prognosis.
“They said they thought he might not be able to walk, to talk, to feed himself, to take care of himself,” Helen said.
So, who is the 19-year-old in the building behind home plate at the Correia Middle School Sports Complex, deftly juggling an array of duties for the Point Loma High School junior varsity softball team?
Where to start?
Depth perception challenges stopped Vincent from securing a driver’s license, so he navigates public transportation to reach the complex and drag the field before his father, the JV coach, arrives.
When the school dedicated the new facility in early 2020, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic placed the world on pause, Vincent stood in front of the crowd to play the national anthem on his clarinet as his mom accompanied him on a portable organ.
No one could find the owner’s manual for the electronic scoreboard system, launching Vincent into a tireless internet hunt until he “miraculously” ran down a copy. He began to use music playlists on his phone to enrich the Pointers’ game-day experience. When he cued up “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he would thumb the play button and unfurl the flag out the press box window.
Then one day, Vincent picked up the microphone.
The boy who might not speak. The boy who faced potentially crippling bouts of stuttering. The boy whose autism threatened to lock him in a personal prison of isolation.
Life is too rich to sit out or shrink in the shadows, Vincent reasoned. He has things to do — many, many things.
“Welcome, Point Loma fans …”
As players bounced around the field before a recent game against The Bishop’s School, the Electric Light Orchestra staple “Evil Woman” played. Soon, Steve Winwood lent his piercing falsetto to Blind Faith. Creedence. Zeppelin. Bad Company. Along the street, it sounded as if a 50-plus beer league might be hitting the field.
Players on Point Loma’s varsity team routinely clamored for hip-hop or rap, but Vincent held firm. The first concert he attended was Paul McCartney at Petco Park. The next? The Beach Boys at Humphreys.
Vincent mixes in some surprises with the classic-rock menu, including the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass smile-producer “Spanish Flea” — best known as the theme to the 1960s and ’70s game show “The Dating Game.” Then he drifts to the late 1950s with The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley.”
“You look out to the crowds and some of the grandparents have a big smile on their face and are singing along to it,” Helen said. “He has a very eclectic playlist.”
Ask the teenager who “loves, loves, loves” the Padres to name his favorite player. The answer is nowhere close to the predictable response of Fernando Tatis Jr.
“Trevor Hoffman, Jake Peavy and David Wells,” he said.
Old school? Old soul? Call it what you want. And while you’re at it, call him whatever you want. He goes by Vince, Vinny, Vin and, yes, Vincent. He’s not caught up in those sorts of things.
“I don’t really care,” he said.
Unlocking the secret to Vincent’s flowering life involves much more than bullishness over biology. In the face of daunting obstacles, moments of taunts and bruising unkindness, he shoos away negativity with the seeming ease of chasing away a fly.
“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Chris Ghio said. “[When he fell behind in baseball], I witnessed kids talking about Vincent. ‘Look at Vincent, he’s in baby T-ball’ and teasing him. It was heart-wrenching. He’s endured a lot.
“But it didn’t bother him. He just ignored it and went on and did his thing.”
Through a partnership between an autism foundation and Jet Blue, a younger Vincent became the face and voice in a spot that helped ease the stress of air travel.
Instead of dwelling on his own hurdles, he focused on helping others.
“I’m kind of proud of that,” he said.
The reach of his nearly unshakable resolve extends beyond kids. Just ask 57-year-old Point Loma varsity coach Billy Hunyady.
Hunyady attended Point Loma High and played sports with Chris Ghio. He was crushed to learn his grandson, now 3½, had been diagnosed with autism. As the coach spends time around Vincent, he does not see doors closing — he sees them opening.
“It’s been really inspiring for me,” Hunyady said. “You’re not in that world until you’re in that world, you know? I’ve heard of people on ‘the spectrum’ and various different things. Now I’m in that world and take my grandson to occupational therapy once a week.
“I watch his journey go at a pace that’s slower than we’d like. To see Vince at this point, being as independent as he is and be as valuable as he is for us has been encouraging for my family, too.
“To see the strides Vince has made is super powerful.”
Vincent made an impromptu appearance on national TV during the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. During a wind-whipped round in the PGA Tour event, cameras caught him in a valiant wrestling match with an umbrella that had been turned inside out.
To Hunyady, he saw the same old Vince.
“You can see his determination getting that task taken care of,” Hunyady said. “What may have been embarrassing for some people, Vince was like, ‘Nope, I’ve got a job to do and that’s to straighten this thing out.’
‘I can do this’
As the Bishop’s game neared, Vincent held the microphone close to tell fans how many minutes remained before the first pitch. He explained where the bathrooms were. He explained COVID-19 protocols. He hawked Pointers merchandise.
The umpire leaned into the fence to get his attention.
“You’re doing a great job again,” he said.
When opponents made their way to the batter’s box, Vincent only mentioned jersey numbers because “I don’t want to butcher anyone’s name.” He played it right down the middle as he relayed scoring updates, though Hunyady said he turned off the mic to pray for his sister, Marie, to break up a no-hitter in a recent varsity game.
Asked to explain why he played the national anthem in front of everyone, why he dove into the Jet Blue project, why he interviews on his own for jobs in the hospitality management field he hopes to join … why he picked up that microphone, Vincent did not hesitate.
“I decided I can do this,” he said.
Helen Ghio revealed those early, soaring dreams of parents for kids to excel in every imaginable way. She thought about her son playing football and imagined him attending Harvard.
Vincent’s life, however, has become something more. He’s taught those around him essential and centering lessons. Wave your flag. Do your thing. Eyes ever forward. Ceilings deserve sledgehammers.
How long will he stay involved with the Pointers?
“He’s a joy to have in our program,” Hunyady said. “I hope he stays involved as long as he wants.”
“As long as I can, because it’s a really fun thing to do,” he said.