What's in a name?
Anyone interested in the answer to the question posed by Shakespeare should ask Lenny Martelli.
Lenny would say inspiration. Hope. Motivation.
Lenny Martelli is a 16-year-old junior at Pope John Paul II High School who suffered a spinal injury during a snowboarding accident in Schwenksville one year ago today. The injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. The prognosis was that his chances of ever again walking were very slim - but Lenny will walk onto the court with St. Joseph's basketball coach Phil Martelli at Wednesday's game against Xavier at Hagan Arena.
Lenny is no relation to Phil Martelli, but he and his mother, Leti, father, Len, and sisters, Angela, 13, and Marina, 10, had frequently been asked if they were.
"I knew who he was and I'd often hear, 'Are you related to Phil Martelli?' I'd say, 'No, but it would be cool if I was,' " Lenny said. "And they'd ask, 'Have you met him?' And I'd say, 'No, but it would be cool if I did' - it was always in the back of my head that I'd like to meet him, and at least get to know him."
Concerned about the emotional state of her son, Leti thought it might be a boost to Lenny's spirit if she contacted Phil Martelli and asked for an autographed photo, a T-shirt, a cap, anything. Lenny got the T-shirt and the cap, and more. He got a visit from the coach while he was at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.
"As soon as I met [the coach], he told me right away he wanted me to come out on the court with him one day and walk with him, and I made that my goal," Lenny recalled. "It gave me a big push. It was like me being an athlete and a coach telling me I have to work harder and work toward something. And being an athlete, I was always trying to do what my coaches told me. Having a coach give me something to work for, it gave me more of an edge.
"I'm definitely excited about this. I'll probably be nervous because there will be lot of people there, but I'll be more excited."
Lenny said the two caps and shirt that Martelli gave him are on his bedpost.
Phil Martelli clearly remembered the day he met Lenny Martelli at Magee.
"The first thing that jumped out at me was, here's a young kid who was snowboarding and, now, his life could be upside down," he said, emotion rising in his voice. "There was all this family love. The family spirit captured me. What moved me is [his mother] thought I could make a difference. I just said to Lenny, 'Next year you're going to walk out on the court with me.' "
Along with having the same surname, there is more to the relationship. Lenny began high school at Kennedy-Kenrick, which closed, and his mother, who lives in Plymouth Meeting and teaches sixth grade at Our Lady of Victory in Norristown, graduated from the same high school Phil Martelli coached before he moved on to St. Joe's.
Leti Martelli said that in the year since the coach visited Lenny, he has kept in contact for updates on her son's condition.
"He has been so wonderful to Lenny," Leti said. "I really didn't expect Phil to come to the hospital. It was quite a surprise. When Phil visited him, Lenny was in a wheelchair and he couldn't move a thing but his arms. I remember Phil telling him that he and Lenny were going to walk on the court together next year. And it's going to happen one year and a day after the accident, which should make the whole night even better."
Lenny loves athletics, especially football. He won an award as special-teams player of the year when he played for the freshman team at Kennedy-Kenrick. He also played baseball, lacrosse and basketball. Following his injury, he completed his sophomore year with the help of a tutor. He returned to school in September. He said he walks around his home without the aid of canes, but that he uses canes for support when he's at school.
"There are good days and bad days," said Lenny, who spent three months at Magee and received a visit from Adam Taliaferro, the former Eastern High football standout who suffered a spinal injury playing football for Penn State a decade ago. Taliaferro made a remarkable recovery. "There are some days when I can't make it to school because weather bothers me.
"But I feel I can continue to improve. The doctors say they don't know, because there have only been a few people with this injury who recovered."
Lenny's mother is convinced the concern Phil Martelli has shown for him factored in the surprising progress he's made.
"Lenny promised Phil Martelli he'd walk on the court with him, so I kept telling him, 'You've got to keep that promise,' " Leti said. "It did keep him going. And just think, if we didn't have the same name, this would have never happened."