Among the hundreds of mourners honoring the memory of 16-year-old Joshua Mileto at a wake in Medford Monday were his teammates — dozens of Sachem High School East football players who filed into the funeral home wearing white and red uniforms to pay their last respects.
“This has affected all of us. It’s a tragedy,” said Rafael Rodriguez Sr. of Hauppauge, whose son plays on the Sachem East team. “There’s no one to blame, it is just a sad turn of events. It’s a tragedy for the whole community.”
Mileto died Thursday after a log fell on his head during a preseason football practice session on school grounds in Farmingville, authorities said. The teen — who also played baseball and loved the New York Giants — was participating in a drill that required five athletes to carry a log over their heads.
The wake for Mileto was held Monday at McManus-Lorey Funeral Home in Medford. A funeral Mass will be offered Tuesday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ronkonkoma. Burial will follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.
Some said the tragedy that befell the well-liked teen drew the community together. “Sachem is Sachem,” said Luke Suhr, 16, a student at Sachem North, a football rival of Mileto’s team. “We are a community. We are a family.”
Matt Lizi, 16, came to the wake with Suhr and Matt Griffin, also 16.
“This is sad,” Lizi said. “It was a freak accident. It wasn’t like a football accident with football gear on.”
Sachem East 2015 graduate Joe Credidio, 20, of Farmingville, said he is a friend of Mileto’s older brother.
“I knew he was a good kid,” he said of Mileto. “I knew he was a great football player. Everyone is coming together over this.”
Delya Dowsett, 18, who graduated in June, said, “Even though I didn’t know him, I felt like I knew him. He was part of the Sachem family. This is a tragic loss for us. I’ve never seen a community come together like this. As sad as it is to lose him, it’s good to see people coming together.”
So many mourners came to pay their respects that they slowed traffic along Horseblock Road near the funeral home.
They gathered as Mileto’s grieving family issued a statement Monday, thanking their Long Island friends and neighbors for their support.
“The outpouring of support from the community, both local and Islandwide, has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated,” Mileto’s great-uncle John Aita said. “We feel incredibly blessed and honored to be the recipients of so much love and kindness. To know that you loved Josh as we did is as comforting as anything can be in this difficult time. Please understand that even through our grief, we hear and see you.”
Aita was joined by his wife, Angela Aita, and his son, Andrew Wigfall, during a news conference outside Aita’s Jericho office. Mother and son wore T-shirts with Joshua’s name written on the front and Mileto’s jersey number, 5, on the back.
Wigfall said he lived with Mileto’s family for almost two years when he was younger, and that his cousin was always quick with a smile or a comforting word whenever he was having a bad day.
“He was a really good kid,” said Wigfall, 29. “I never saw an evil bone in his body.”
Sachem school officials canceled Monday’s scheduled first official day of football practice at Sachem High School North and East “out of respect for the family and loved ones,” according to a notice posted on the school website Friday afternoon. All football-related activities at both schools will remain canceled through Tuesday.
Aita, of Great Neck, offered special thanks to Sachem High School East faculty, students and parents for their support, and thanked the Sachem High School North community “for putting community above rivalry.”
Aita said the family appreciated the financial donations made in the wake of Mileto’s death, but expressed concern that unscrupulous people might take advantage of his family’s loss.
“While we certainly appreciate all the fundraisers being set on in Josh’s behalf, we did want to caution that the Sachem East Touchdown Club’s GoFundMe page is as of now the only charity effort officially vetted by the family,” he said.