Mineola honors Melendez despite no memorial soccer game due to coronavirus

Mineola honors Melendez despite no memorial soccer game due to coronavirus
The Mineola High School community honored former soccer player and student Christian Melendez with a brick surrounding the school's American flag. (Photo courtesy of Mineola High School)

Mineola High School officials gathered last week to honor the memory of Christian Melendez by unveiling a brick with his name to be placed at the flagpole outside the school.

Melendez, a Mineola High School senior at the time, died on Dec. 24, 2018, after a car accident.  He was a passenger in the vehicle, a 2001 Mitsubishi Montero, when it left the roadway and crashed into an iron fence bordering a Nassau County sump on the corner of Willis Avenue and Center Street on Dec. 21.

Police said the SUV flipped over into the sump upon crashing through the fence. All three occupants of the vehicle were transported to area hospitals, the driver and one passenger with nonlife-threatening injuries.

Melendez was a four-year member of the school’s varsity soccer team and was named as the team’s co-captain during his final season. 

A memorial of flowers, photos and soccer balls remains where the car created a large gap in the fence, now replaced with chain link fencing.

In a traditional year, members of the Mustang community would be preparing to host the annual Christian Melendez Memorial Soccer Game between the varsity soccer team and alumni. Due to the coronavirus, the game will not be played this year.

Former varsity coach Paul Pereira reflected on the past two years without Melendez during the event on Dec. 21. Pereira said he holds the way that the Mineola community has rallied around Melendez’s family very close to his heart.

“People who did not know Christian, people who are not connected to this school, but they are connected to us through Christian, I thank everyone in the community for their continued support,” he said.

Aside from hosting the soccer game, the Melendez family and school officials helped establish the Christian Melendez Scholarship, which is awarded to two high school seniors to help fund a part of their initial college tuition.

Current varsity coach Al Cavalluzzo presented a mock tile with Melendez’s name on top, a shield with wings on both sides, Melendez’s No. 10 in the center, the phrase “Live Like a Champion” below, and Melendez’s date of birth and date of death on the bottom.

Cavalluzzo reflected on a memory of Melendez as a senior in high school. Cavalluzzo said he tried to get Melendez’s uniform back after the soccer season ended, but after multiple conversations with him, Cavalluzzo said it became clear he was never getting the uniform back.

“I think for Christian it was about the pride he had wearing that uniform and it was so significant that he was not going to pass that on to anyone else,” Cavalluzzo said. “I can tell you now that I’m glad he didn’t and I’m glad he was the last one to wear it.”

Cavalluzzo said the school plans to have the tile placed outside the American flag adjacent to the school in the spring.

Melendez’s mother, Karen Miranda, joined school psychiatrist Patricio Romero at the podium but did not speak. Romero, who has remained close to the family since Melendez’s death, said he and Miranda talk constantly about their gratitude for all of the support from the school community since her son’s death.

“Knowing that we have these events and knowing that we always get together in the name of Christian, it makes it a much better time for [Melendez’s family],” Romero said.

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