By Michael Lewis BigAppleSoccer.com
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Even after a dozen years, FDNY captain Joe Brosi still gets emotional talking about 911 and the loss of his friend Sergio Villanueva, who perished along with 3,000 other people.
Villanueva spanned the NYPD and FDNY. He was a police officer who became a firefighter. He played for the College Point Flames, scoring the game-winning goal for the side several days before he died at the World Trade Center.
“For us, it’s an idea, it’s an idea that he represents, that none of us, police officers, firefighters, court officers, correction officers, the first responder community but also whether it was Cantor Fitzgerald or any of those other companies, those people have to live on, and Sergio represents us,” Brosi said. “We used to say rising from the ashes, and picking ourselves up an continuing in their memory and sharing their story and ensuring that a piece of them lives on forever. Sergio represents a lot more than a player in a No. 10 jersey. He presents 3,000 who died that day.”
On Sunday, NY’s Bravest and Finest will come together in their annual Battle On the Pitch in honor of Villanueva after the Red Bulls-FC Dallas encounter at Red Bull Arena at 5 p.m. The game is expected to kick off sometime between 7-7:30 p.m.
Last Saturday the New York Cosmos held Heroes Night at James M. Shuart Stadium prior to their game against Minnesota United, an event that feted not only police officers and fire fighters, but military personnel as well. The FDNY and NYPD held a soccer clinic for children.
“It’s a special day for us, especially falling on the backdrop of 911,” Brosi said. “It gives us an opportunity to continue our mission of remembering Sergio and promoting soccer and everything along with it with young kids. Our youth soccer clinics are important to us an are important to the mission of the foundation to spread that goodwill to the sport of soccer in the memory of Sergio.”
It sounds like a legend, but it is true. Only two days prior to September 11, 2011, Villanueva scored with two minutes remaining for the Flames in a 1-0 victory in the Long Island Soccer Football League. Born in Argentina, Villanueva was 33. He left a family and a fiancee, Tanya.
Through the Sergio Villanueva Soccer Foundation, the former firefighter’s memory lives on. The foundation annually gives scholarships to deserving student-athletes both of Villanueva’s alma maters, Hofstra University and Holy Cross High School. The foundation has provided more than $125,000 in scholarships to both institutions.
“We swore 12 years ago that Sergio would never be forgotten through the endowments at Hofstra and Holy Cross High School,” said foundation executive director Jon Kanovsky said.
Villanueva’s body was never found, none of his gear, no trace of his helmet, Kanovsky said.
A memorial has been built at Hofstra Soccer Stadium, which is dedicated with a plaque.
Every year Kanovsky gives a talk to the Pride men’s and women’s soccer teams.
“I talk about Sergio’s life. I talk about 911, the impact,” Kanovsky said. “Because 12 years later, the incoming freshmen at Hofstra were first graders. I think the schools do a pretty poor job off 911 education. I feel it’s one of the my duties to keep Sergio’s memory alive, and all of the 345 fire firefighters and the other people who died that day.”
As they say, what comes around, goes around.
A month after the scholarships were dedicated at Hofstra, Kanovsky’s wife Andrea was diagnosed with stage four cancer and passed away three years later.
“The support I got from the Villanueva family and Hofstra University taught me a lesson what you give you get back tenfold,” he said. “It’s been important lesson for my family.”
Asked if what transpired on September 11, 2001 and the events thereafter ever go away, Brosi replied, “You know what? No.”
He then laughed.
“It doesn’t go away,” he said. “When they say never forget, we always think it will be hard to never forget and we’ll always remember, but I think it will be possible for people to forget where they were, what they were doing, what we lost, who lost and how we lost them. It stays with you and at certain times, it stirs back up. You try to replace as many of the bad memories as you can with good memories and positive memories. That’s what a lot of what we do. That’s what we do here today.”
For more information about Villanueva and the foundation, visit www.sergiosoccerfoundation.org