Michael William Panzera, 19, a former high school soccer player who would have begun his second year at the University of Maryland this fall, died Aug. 15 at Children's Hospital from complications of a brain tumor. He lived in Columbia, where he was born.
Mr. Panzera was a starting striker for the soccer team at Hammond High School during his junior year when he began to lose energy and stamina.
"I couldn't understand why people were just running by him," his coach, Trevin London, told the Baltimore Sun in 2003.
After his team lost a semifinal game in the state tournament on Nov. 12, 2002, Mr. Panzera began to have double vision. He was admitted to a hospital that night, two days after his 17th birthday, and a CAT scan revealed a baseball-sized tumor in his brain. He was rushed to surgery at 4 a.m. the next morning at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and 90 percent of the tumor was removed.
After treatment and private study with tutors, he returned to Hammond High in April 2003 to finish his junior year.
"He had to regain his energy after the chemo, radiation and surgeries," said Kevin Chesley, a friend and classmate since childhood. "He was so eager to get back in school."
Despite having problems with balance and energy, Mr. Panzera tried out for the soccer team in fall 2003 and made the varsity squad. He was a key reserve off the bench and, in one game, scored the team's only goal. He also played with the Soccer Association of Columbia and the Olney Boys & Girls Club and was a certified youth soccer referee.
During high school, he participated in Leadership U, a youth organization sponsored by civic groups, and helped present programs on drinking and driving. He also was a peer tutor in his high school's special education program and volunteered for a Howard County summer camp for special-needs children.
Mr. Panzera was a good student and was known for his sly humor, even in the face of his illness.
"No matter how grave the situation," friend and classmate Greg Giroux said, "he always came up with some sarcastic crack to break up everyone."
In a skit at his high school's Mr. HHS pageant, Mr. Panzera came on stage dressed as a boxer, accompanied by the theme from "Rocky," and pretended to beat up a fellow student wearing a shirt labeled, "Brain Tumor."
In October 2003, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he traveled to Los Angeles to visit the studio that produced his favorite television show, "The Simpsons." He sat in a rehearsal with the actors, and the show's creator, Matt Groening, drew a cartoon of him with Bart Simpson.
Mr. Panzera's friends had T-shirts and gray bracelets printed with his nickname, "M Pizzle," and donated $3,000 from the sale of the bracelets to cancer research and Make-A-Wish.
Mr. Panzera graduated with his high school class last year and entered the University of Maryland in the fall. He lived on campus and was studying to be a special education teacher. Near the end of his first semester, he learned that the tumor had returned. Nevertheless, he completed his final exams and was named to the dean's list.
Despite surgery and treatment at Children's Hospital, Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute, the cancer quickly spread throughout his body.
"Last October, he was playing intramural football," Giroux recalled. "A few months later, he was in a wheelchair."
Mr. Panzera was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.
Survivors include his parents, Ronald and Kathleen Panzera of Columbia; a sister, Adriane Panzera of Chevy Chase; a brother, Stephen Panzera of Hagerstown, Md.; and his grandmothers, Shirley Potter of Washington and Olive Panzera of Sterling.
Mr. Panzera enjoyed playing golf, basketball and poker. When he was ill, as many as 30 friends would come to his family's house to talk and play Texas Hold 'Em.
"He never had you feeling sorry for him," Chesley said. "His attitude was always, 'I'm going to beat it.' He was a real popular kid. You couldn't not like him."