Westhampton Beach HS soccer players honor fallen teammate

The Westhampton Beach varsity soccer team held an The Westhampton Beach varsity soccer team held an East End scimmage against Hampton Bays in memory of their teammate, Juan Cardenas, 19, who died during a motorcycle accident. (July 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Wednesday night, the soccer field at Westhampton Beach High School was covered with players wearing the number 10, as members of the community came together in a match to honor their lost teammate.

Juan Sebastion Cardenas Plata, 19, of East Quogue, who was described by his family and teachers as a tech-savvy "straight arrow" with a great sense of humor and a love of children, was taken off life support and died July 3 after being injured in a motorcycle crash July 1.

Cardenas was riding his 2003 Kawasaki motorcycle eastbound on Montauk Highway approaching Eastway Drive in Southampton just before 10 p.m. on July 1 when he struck a guardrail and a utility pole, according to a police report. He was transported first to Southampton Hospital, and then to Stony Brook University Hospital.

The cause of the crash is not known, according to Southampton police, but Cardena was an experienced motorcyclist, his family said.

Cardenas' stepfather, Owen Ranft, 56, said he, Cardenas and the rest of his family moved to East Quogue from Colombia about five years ago. Cardenas, who grew up playing soccer in Colombia, quickly joined the Westhampton Beach High School team, and was among the best players on the varsity where he played center midfielder.

"He loved soccer more than anything else in his life," said Dan O'Brien, his coach and a physical education teacher at the high school. "He was the best skilled person on our team."

Had it not been for a season-ending injury in October, right after Cardenas' first career three-goal game against Islip, he would have been an All-County player, O'Brien said.

O'Brien organized the game after learning that many community members were unaware of the teenager's death until after his funeral Saturday. During the game, which was played against Hampton Bays High School, each player wore a white shirt with "10" -- Cardenas' number -- on the back.

The number 10 in organized soccer is traditionally given to the player considered the best on the team.

"We were so happy to have him on our team," said Max Pastor, 17, of Westhampton Beach. "He was a great guy. A great person."

Cardenas graduated on June 21 and was excited to start classes at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens in the fall, where he planned to study to become an airplane mechanic, his family said.

"Everybody who knew him was lucky to have him in their lives," said his mother, Morelya Ranft, 49.

Owen Ranft, 56, said his son, "could fix anything. . . . He was a whiz."

He was also a hard worker, his family said. Cardenas bought his motorcycle about a month before the accident with money he had saved from his job as a cook at the Beach Hut, a restaurant on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach.

Cardenas' mother, siblings and biological father from Colombia were all at the game. Afterward, the family was presented with Cardenas' number 10 jersey and the game ball.

His sister Carolina Bronzino, 27, said that the two were very close and liked to go to the movies together, and when they weren't doing that, they kept in contact through text messaging.

"No matter what we did, he would always end up at the end of the day playing soccer with his friends," said Bronzino, of Nesconset. "He was really happy. He always made everybody laugh."

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