Tom Lang considered Aristides Michalakopoulos the type of student every coach wants on his team. “He was always respectful, a big guy with a big heart,” said Lang, a physical education teacher and varsity basketball coach at Thomas Wootton High School. “He worked hard in everything — playing sports, studying, getting a job and developing friendships.”
Michalakopoulos, a Wootton 2004 graduate and varsity football and basketball player, took care of everything with an upbeat and positive manner.
“Everything he did, he did with a smile,” said Colin Fechter, a classmate and football teammate of Michalakopoulos at Wootton. “He had a positive attitude about everything [and] he had an obvious charm.”
“I’ll always remember him with a smile,” said Gayle Smith, a Wootton parent whose son Gregory played football with Michalakopoulos. “He just exuded joy and happiness. … He always took the time to catch up.”
Michalakopoulos, died in an automobile accident in Greece on May 14. He was a 19-year-old chemical engineering student at the university of Thessaloniki, where he lived with his grandparents, and he was running an errand for them at the time of the accident. Michalakopoulos’ passing was especially mourned among the communities at Wootton and the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.
MICHALAKOPOULOS took college-level courses as a Wootton senior, but stopped by the Wootton gym between classes to shoot free throws with Lang. It was these informal times that he came to know Michalakopoulos’ character — both upbeat and humorous, yet determined to learn and improve. “He’d be shooting free throws and joking around,” Lang said. “He could make a friend with anybody.”
In the more formal times of practice, Michalakopoulos showed his passion to learn. “He would look you in the eye. When you talked, you could tell his was listening. … He was trying to understand what you were teaching,” Lang said. “As a coach, [that’s] the biggest joy you get.”
Michalakopoulos’ approach served him especially well in football, a sport he’d never played before, said Fechter. He had the size and athleticism, but it was his eagerness to learn the game and positive attitude that helped him become a starter.
“He had never played these games before, but he wanted to be part of something with the school and something with his friends,” Smith said.
ALONG WITH TEAMMATES, parents, guidance counselors and coaches from the Wootton community, Fechter and Smith attended St. George for a memorial service on Sunday, May 22.
“He’ll always be remembered as a true friend,” Smith said. “It shows you how many lives he touched.”
Players on Wootton’s ‘03 football team are signing and framing a team picture they will present to the Michalakopoulos family.
Michalakopoulos survives his parents Ekatirina and Antonis Michalakopoulos, and his siblings Tassos and Marianthe.
Lang spoke to some of his players and students last week, and told them, “Whenever you think of him, that smile will come back.”