Like a badge of honor, the number "56" could be seen written in bold, black makeup on the faces of Sayville High School cheerleaders, printed on the helmets of the varsity football team, and displayed proudly on the cars of spectators and supporters during Saturday's homecoming celebration.
Fifty-six was Sayville High School student Joey Visone’s jersey number when he played defensive end for the school’s junior varsity team last year. On July 22, 2014, Visone passed away after losing an ongoing struggle with terminal brain cancer.
“It’s hit our team pretty hard,” said Sayville head coach Rob Hoss. “He would have been on senior varsity right now, playing today for us.”
The tragedy shook the school, but also prompted the entire student body to come together and wear his number at the homecoming game so he could still be there in spirit.
“He was an overall great person,” Dan Lederer, a senior and close friend of Visone, said. “He was one of those people that was so friendly, everybody knew him.”
When rain began to pour in the middle of halftime festivities, the “56” makeup on the cheerleaders became smeared as they sprinted to their parents’ cars or underneath the bleachers for shelter. But even though the paint was gone, Visone’s memory remained.
At the far end of the Sayville football field stands a lone tree adorned with handmade star ornaments, guarding a group of headstones memorializing fallen Sayville football stars underneath the branches. A memorial for Visone was placed under the tree earlier this year.
“Football was one of the only things that really kept Joey going,” Hoss said. “Now, in a way, he’ll always be here on the field, playing football with the team.”