Joseph Bello was the proverbial fist of Hilmar High’s vaunted defensive unit this past fall, leading the way for the Yellowjackets from the linebacker position with 138 tackles and a lead-by-example attitude. Bello played with passion and enthusiasm and was a major factor in Hilmar’s undefeated Trans-Valley League championship season and its run to the Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section championship game against Central Catholic High.
Now, after a tragic accident at Pismo Beach on Saturday, Bello is relying on the strength of prayers from his friends, and community as a whole, as he recovers from two fractured vertebrae that have left him without feeling or movement from the chest down.
“It’s one of those things you can’t put into words. It takes your breath away, I was shocked,” Hilmar’s head football coach Frank Marques said. “He’s an outstanding human being, more than anything else. So when I heard about how serious it was, I felt sick.”
“In all my years of coaching he’s definitely one of my favorites, because he always did everything right,” Marques added.
Bello was named the Trans-Valley League Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to play in both the Lions All-Star football game and the Rotary All-Star football game.
Bello was in Pismo over the four-day weekend, enjoying the fun of riding all-terrain vehicles with a host of Hilmar residents. While riding his quad at Oceano Dunes, the 17 year-old senior lost control as he rode down a hill and was thrown from the ATV. After being flipped onto the sand, the vehicle landed on Bello’s back and fractured two of his vertebrae.
Bello was flown to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo while Tim Jones, Bello’s line coach who was also at Pismo Beach, contacted Marques to tell him about the accident, prompting the head coach to immediately drive to the hospital and visit his former player.
Bello, who maintained consciousness through the entire ordeal, was brave in the face of adversity as Marques remembers.
“I think he saw the concern on everyone’s faces, and the kid Joseph is, he tried to joke a little to lighten the mood,” Marques said. “I guess I wouldn’t expect anything else from the kid.”
On Tuesday, three days after the accident, Bello underwent surgery to fuse his two fractured vertebrae.
As Bello was undergoing medical examinations, the community of Hilmar was busy rallying around their injured ‘Jacket, first with a special Fellowship of Christian Athletes service that saw more than 200 people attend and then with a campus card signing that saw at least half of the student body show up to lend support.
Bello, who was a frequent subject of focus on the Journal’s Wednesday Night Blitz video series, was also a basketball player at Hilmar, as well as a leader in a variety of clubs and organizations.
“He’s that guy that doesn’t have an enemy on campus, just an all-around great guy, so it really struck the campus hard,” Marques said. “Word got around very quickly in the community.”
Bello is expected to be transferred to Santa Clara’s Valley Medical Center once his condition has stabilized, but beyond that there has yet to be any indication as to how long his recovery process will take and what Bello and his family should expect of the process.
“With the kind of injuries no one can tell you what’s going to happen. But I have faith that he’ll be fine. I know Joseph and I am confident he’ll pull through this,” Marques said. “Joseph and his parents believe in the power of God and their asking for prayers at this moment. This family is very strong and close knit, so they’re going through a lot right now.”