Josh Mileto’s No. 5 was not only in everyone’s heart and on everyone’s mind yesterday at Sachem East High School. It quite literally was everywhere, even before the number was officially retired by the school before the season football opener against Lindenhurst.
The Flaming Arrows’ cheerleaders wore “Mileto 05” on their backs. Styrofoam cups creating No. 5 patterns were stuck all around the fence that lined the football field. Both teams wore No. 5 decals on their helmets as they entered the stadium, which had “5” lit up on the scoreboard.
So it was perfectly appropriate when public address announcer Mike Feldstein referred to Mileto as “Forever No. 5” during a moving pregame speech written by a Sachem East faculty member. Then Mileto’s jersey number was retired and displayed, first to the crowd and later, during the game, on a large stand next to the scoreboard.
Mileto, 16, died on Aug. 10 after a log he and four teammates had hoisted over their heads as part of a team-building exercise slipped from their hands and struck him on the head. His parents, Angelo and Sayyida, and other family members attended the ceremony wearing jerseys with Josh’s name and number on the back but did not speak.
“Josh was a defensive back and receiver for the Arrows described by teammates as someone who always had a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone,” Feldstein read. “Josh loved his teammates as his extended family and loved being around and playing the game of football. Football teaches us a great deal about life, and one of the game’s greatest lessons is by coming together, we can overcome hardships.”
The Lindenhurst football team and community were among those coming together. In addition to the No. 5 decals on their helmets, several players wore red shoelaces — Sachem East’s colors are red, black and gold — and red was the dominant color worn by fans in both the home and visiting bleachers.
“Someone from Lindenhurst posted on Facebook this week, ‘What can we do?’ so I said, ‘How about our fans wear red?’ ” said Mike Anderson, a Lindenhurst fan whose son Mike is a running back for the Bulldogs. “We spread the word on social media and the response was overwhelming. My phone didn’t stop.”
Anderson said Bobby Tee’s, an Amityville store, donated 100 T-shirts that honored Mileto, and more than $1,000 in proceeds from the shirts went to a scholarship fund in Mileto’s name. The Lindenhurst Football Association donated $1,000 to the fund.
“We’re wearing red to support Sachem East,” said Danielle Reichelt, who wore a red sweatshirt. Her daughter is a Lindenhurst cheerleader, and the entire cheer squad traveled to the road game and wore T-shirts that said, ‘Lindy Remembers,” with a heart symbol.
“It could have been any one of our children,” said Kathy Montaniz, a Lindenhurst parent. “We feel heartbreak for their community. It’s so sad. It was important for me to show support. It was the right thing to do.”
Sachem coaches and officials did not wish to comment, but Lindenhurst athletic director Anthony Amesti said, “Lindenhurst is a community that has faced its own hardships in the past, and because of the support we received from others, there was a tremendous desire to pay it forward and let the Sachem community know that they are not alone.”
After the retired jersey was hoisted and fastened to a stand, Sachem East’s football team gathered on the sideline and chanted “Josh” five times and, after a pause, “Number 5.”
The players then left the field, most with heads bowed, some in tears, to a standing ovation, and returned to the locker room to prepare for the game, their friend and teammate firmly in their hearts. Forever.