The memory of a young man from Stony Brook has inspired a lacrosse jamboree that will raise money for scholarships for Ward Melville High School student-athletes.
Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa graduated from WMHS in 2017 and left behind an impressive sports legacy, and in the few years after high school, he taught the community about courage.
This past August, LaRosa died after a battle with the cancer desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma. The form of cancer started soon after he graduated from WMHS. While he had beaten DSRCT, before his passing, LaRosa went in to have surgery that would have involved a full abdominal transplant due to complications caused by radiation treatment he had received. He didn’t survive the surgery.
David Ratner, whose son Dylan has been friends with LaRosa since early elementary school, is part of a five-person committee that is organizing the JoJo Strong Jamboree that will take place Saturday, Nov. 27, at the high school. The proceeds from the benefit lacrosse tournament will go toward the Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Memorial Scholarship Foundation at WMHS. The goal is to assist scholar-athletes for years to come, according to Ratner.
Lacrosse was chosen for the benefit as LaRosa was part of the 2017 state champion lacrosse team at WMHS. The day will include a tournament and clinic for young athletes as well as Ward Melville alumni competing against teams from Adelphi University and Smithtown. The day also will include an “Old Skool” men’s tournament and fastest shot competition.
Ratner said the relationship that he, his wife Julie and son had with LaRosa and has with his mom Gina Mastrantoni could be described as unbreakable ever since the two moved around the corner from the family.
“He basically lived in my house for the last 17 years, so he was almost like my adopted son,” Ratner said.
For a while, Ratner’s son played lacrosse with LaRosa, until Dylan Ratner switched to tennis. The boys used to play lacrosse on the family’s driveway and street, too.
“The neighborhood was a field of dreams for these kids,” the father said. “They would run around and play in the dark, and it was like the old times.”
In addition to lacrosse, LaRosa was a kicker for Patriots football after playing soccer for years. Ratner described LaRosa as a great sportsman.
“It was really a great role for him, and it really showed his leadership character,” Ratner said. “You can win or lose a game based upon your one kick and nothing got him down — nothing would faze him.”
Mastrantoni said her son’s first word was “ball.”
“He tried every single sport there was to try,” the mother said, adding in addition to lacrosse, football and soccer there was swimming and wrestling.
She said after he started treatment he took up golf, and it became his passion.
“You name the sport he tried it,” she said. “This kid was all about sports and competing, and as much as he’d love to win, he was a good sportsman as well. He was very kind and respectful. The best kind of kid and a very good son, very caring.”
After graduating from Ward Melville in 2017, LaRosa headed to Adelphi University on a scholarship. Ratner said during Christmas break that year, the college student felt stomach pain and went to Stony Brook University Hospital. It was determined he had some type of cancer, even though it couldn’t be ascertained what type at the time. After various tests between the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, he was diagnosed with the deadly cancer.
Ratner said LaRosa always stayed positive and talked about future plans, including one day getting married and having a family.
“He was ready to get back to his life,” Ratner said.
“He did not entertain sadness because he thought of it as negativity.”
— Gina Mastrantoni
His mother said he also considered going into health care and contemplated becoming a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.
“He did not entertain sadness because he thought of it as negativity,” she said.
The mother added that he had hoped to go to Adelphi for another semester and then go to James Madison to be part of its football team as a kicker.
This will be the first lacrosse tournament that the committee hopes to make an annual event to help students, according to Ratner. He said fundraisers were held in the past to support LaRosa and his family during his battle, and the support from the community as well as all over Long Island was tremendous.
Mastrantoni said the tournament is exciting, and she plans to attend. She has been touched by the support of family and friends as well as the community.
“It’s amazing how many people he touched in the last 22 years,” the mother said.
From being on the traveling lacrosse team, LaRosa’s life also touched many in rival school districts, including Smithtown, and former members of the town’s traveling team will be at the tournament to play.
“They’re coming out to show solidarity,” Ratner said.
He added members of the Three Village school district and board of ed have been helpful in making the event happen. Kevin Finnerty, school district executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics, said his heart broke for the former student-athlete’s family and friends when he heard of LaRosa’s passing a few months ago. The decision to have the event at the school, he said, was an easy one.
“JoJo was an amazing student-athlete with a heart of gold and a great perspective on life,” Finnerty said. “As his family would say, he was the bravest warrior. During JoJo’s battle with cancer, he inspired so many of his peers, family members and the community with his strength, resiliency and positive attitude.”
Finnerty said the organizers have been putting a lot of work and effort into the event.
“I know it will be a great success and a great way to rally our community to remember and honor JoJo,” he said.
After the games on Nov. 27, an awards ceremony will be held at The Bench in