Gathered under a clear blue sky Saturday afternoon, a socially distant group of coaches, administrators, community members, players and families assembled on the brand new Nugent Field turf at Rye High School to bestow the Christopher Daniel Mello Memorial Award.
Since 2002, the Mello family has presented scholarships to Rye and Harrison football players in honor of their son, Christopher, who was a victim of the 9-11 attacks. Chris was on Flight 11 from Boston heading to California for a business trip when his plane went into the World Trade Tower.
Steve “The Old Garnet” Feeney opened the ceremony standing in the broadcast booth and addressing the group assembled around the 50 yard line. “It was a day just like this in 2001 when Chris Mello boarded American Airline Flight Number 11 at Boston’s Logan Airport,” said Feeney – remarking on the clear skies and crisp weather. “We all know what followed.” He continued: “(Today the award can) “shine some light in the dark shadows of the COVID virus effecting American and the world.”
Feeney then announced the awardees.
- TJ Ciafone of the Harrison Huskies. Described as “humble, quiet, reserved, intelligent, caring, honest and loyal”. Also a “ferocious lineman” and “leading by example not by voice”
- Jack Griffiths of the Rye Garnets. Described as “a superior student, a strong & passionate leader, someone who teammates naturally follow” and “Jack’s commitment, dedication, hard work and selfless attitude have been the model for present and future Garnets.”
(PHOTO: TJ Ciafone, Doug Mello and Jack Griffiths.)
Chris’ father Doug Mello presented awards – a $5,000 scholarship – to each young man. Harrison Football Coach Jay Ciraco remarked on the importance of the long standing tradition, noting he was only nine years old when Chris played at Rye High.
Perhaps the most heartfelt comments, on a day and moment when many would qualify, came from Rye Football Coach Dino Garr. Garr coached Chris Mello for three years including 1993 when Mello was Captain and the Garnets competed in the finals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
(PHOTO: Coach Dino Garr)
Describing Mello as selfless and courageous and someone who understood the importance of knowing who you are and doing what is right, Garr spoke about the impact of Chris on his own life. “Over the past 19 years the memory of Chris has inspired me personally – to be a better human being and a better coach.”
Garr continued “These inspirational values became a guiding light to my coaching philosophy.” He then spoke about the history of division in America since the birth of the nation, saying there has never been more divisiveness than today. He contrasted this divisiveness with the gathering for the Mello Award and the bond it creates in, among and between the Harrison and Rye communities.
It “brings us all together,” said Garr. “Mutual respect is what is most important.”
The Mello family deserves great credit for taking such an awful tragedy and turning the memory of their son into an enduring celebration of community, shared tradition and respect. More important now than ever.
See photos from the day: