Doug Mello presenting the 2020 Chris Mello Scholarship Award to Rye High School senior Jack Griffiths.
T J Ciafone, a senior at Harrison High School, and Jack Griffiths holding this year’s trophy.
- Photos by Melanie Cane
For the Love of Chris Mello, and The Game
On September 11, 2001, Rye lost a young man of exemplary character and intellect. Chris Mello was on Flight #11 from Boston to California for business meetings, but the plane was hijacked by terrorists and it was the first of two planes that morning to be flown into the World Trade Center. Mello, a 1994 graduate of Rye High School, was just 25. He was a natural leader in the classroom, on the football field, and a wonderful son, brother, and friend.
To honor Chris’ memory, a college scholarship award program in his name was created the following year. And every year since, the recipients have been recognized at the fall matchup — “The Game” — between longstanding football rivals, the Rye Garnets and the Harrison Huskies.
With high school sports on hold owing to the pandemic, there was no 93rd game played this month. But, thanks to an outpouring of support, a great tradition was upheld. Last Saturday, October 17, a small crowd gathered at Rye High’s new Nugent Field, where the 2020 Chris Mello Scholarship Awards were presented to Garnet Jack Griffiths and Husky T J Ciafone.
“For me, the campaign has been an affirmation of our dream,” said Chris’ father, Doug Mello. “Despite Covid-19, the people of Harrison and Rye have responded, incredibly, to an effort to elevate character, leadership, and respect between the two towns. And give two young men a kickstart to their careers.”
Announcer Steve Feeney “called” the event. After welcoming local officials, school administrators, coaches, athletic directors, and custodial staff, he remarked that “cross-community cooperation in a common goal has never been greater than that exhibited in 2020.”
Rye High Football Coach Dino Garr described quarterback Jack Griffiths as a young man “who epitomizes what the Chris Mello Award represents for any Rye Garnet football player — a superior student, a strong and passionate leader, someone who teammates naturally follow. His commitment, dedication, hard work and selfless attitude have been the model for present and future Garnets. Jack is an extremely competitive, polite, honest, caring, and intelligent individual who puts team first.”
After receiving the award from Doug Mello, Jack said he “looks forward to continuing Chris Mello’s legacy and passing on his amazing qualities.” He added, “Obviously, all of us would like to be playing a regular season but we are grateful to be able to come out on the new turf field, see Steve Feeney up in the booth, and be part of the Mello Award ceremony. We are hopeful that the new football schedule goes according to plan and that we will be back on this field in the spring.”
Harrison High Coach Jay Ciraco described T J Ciafone as a “ferocious lineman who plays the game with class and passion and demonstrable sportsmanship. He leads by example on the field, in the classroom. T J never seeks the spotlight, but projects a team-first mentality, celebrating the accomplishments of others. His name is carved on people’s hearts as well as plaques.”
Providing a brief history of the award, Feeney noted that the scholarship fund was established with a gift of $40,000 from the Verizon Foundation and senior Verizon executives. The award was initially given to a Rye High gridsman who exhibited the qualities Chris Mello possessed, but after consulting with school officials, the Mello family decided to recognize a Harrison High player as well. In 2018, a successor committee was formed with representatives from Rye and Harrison to ensure the perpetuity of the scholarships through fundraising. Since 2002, 39 scholar/athletes have received awards. Initially, the awards were $1,000 each, then doubled to $2,000, and today each winner receives a $5,000 scholarship.
The award recipients through 2015 have all graduated from college with a four-year degree. Among the colleges they have attended are: University of Wisconsin, Princeton, Colgate, University of Delaware, Duke, University of Pennsylvania, St. Lawrence, Fordham University, Boston College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Iona College, Cornell, Manhattan College, University of Michigan, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Purchase, University of Miami, Wake Forest, Penn State University, Brown, and Union College.