The MacArthur boys soccer game on Sept. 28 was something more than an athletic contest between two teams.
The Generals won, 6-1, in a non-league game against Great Neck North to improve their overall record to 7-0-2. But more importantly, they honored their friend, Lorenzo Fernandez, who died on March 2, 2014, of liver cancer at age 12. The team chose to honor him during this game because September is dedicated to Childhood Cancer Awareness.
The friends and family of Fernandez formed a support system for him upon his diagnosis during the fall of 2011 , called Team 20-Friends of Renz. The name was chosen because he wore the number 20 when he played soccer.
“[Team 20-Friends of Renz] is really special - all of them,” Lorenzo’s mother, Laura Fernandez said. “It’s a special group and it’s a special community. I couldn't be happier about how they have embraced Lorenzo and how they have continued his memory through soccer, toy drives, tournaments and anything that they do. They always remember Lorenzo and it is a beautiful thing.”
Fernandez would’ve been a senior this year, which makes it extra special to the team. So, his friends and the Generals ordered warmup shirts and headbands iin neon-green, which was Lorenzo’s favorite color.
The players gave his mother a jersey and a plaque with a picture of Fernandez and a quote that reads, “For our forever teammate, Lorenzo. A life that touches others goes on forever."
Laura said she couldn’t believe the amount of support he and the family have received.
“They would skip school and come over to hang out with him,” Laura said. “They still come around for every birthday and every anniversary. We go to the cemetery together, we go to church together and then we all go out to eat for those two days without fail. And so many days in between.”
Team 20 has raised money by selling apparel, concessions and receiving donations that go directly to Hope and Heroes. Fernandez and his family became familiar with the foundation during his stay in the hospital. Hope and Heroes performs research and provides support for families affected by cancer. Donation information can be found on their website and apparel is sold here. The access code is team20fall19 and will be available until Oct. 6.
Since 2014, Team 20 has raised at least $125,000 for Hope and Heroes through the Levittown Soccer Club's annual Friends of Renz tournament, said Kat Conigliaro, who is the founder of Team 20 and a friend of the Fernandez family.
Danny Conigliaro, who was a close friend of Lorenzo, has honored him by wearing number 20 and placing Lorenzo’s prayer card in his sock while he plays soccer.
During the two seasons following Lorenzo's death, in seventh and eighth grade, Conigliaro went on to score 20 goals. Although he hasn't reached 20 goals yet this season, during the game on Saturday, he reached the 20-point mark.
“Going into the [Saturday] game, I was at 18 points between goals and assists,” Conigliaro said. “And I scored my 20th point during the game and I paid tribute to Lorenzo by doing the sign of the cross and looked up to him.”
MacArthur coach Andy Atkins said watching the moment unfold was special.
“He is striving, not for personal gain because it means something to him to honor Lorenzo,” Atkins said. “It was ironic that he was able to do that. Danny is such a selfless kid because during the game, he takes our penalty kicks and he just gave it up to someone else. He could've put another one in, but he wanted to share it with his teammates.”
The decision to forgo another goal was an easy one for Conigliaro because it is what Lorenzo would have done.
“He always made people feel welcome and he never shied away from anything,” Conigliaro said. “I just always looked up to him and when he passed away, I knew I wanted to better myself and the other people around me.”