On the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, Three Village community members and athletes from surrounding areas came together to remember a former Ward Melville High School athlete and raise funds for his namesake scholarship.
The inaugural JoJo Strong Jamboree took place Nov. 27 on three of the WMHS fields with more than 230 lacrosse players from 12 teams competing, some from areas outside of the Three Village community such as Smithtown and Adelphi alumni.
The inaugural champions, the Ward Melville women’s team comprised of Team Hannah/Team Madison, beat the Adelphi women’s team, 7-6, in an incredible come from behind victory, including a last second save by Samantha Tarpey. The Adelphi men’s team beat the Ward Melville 2015/16 team.
The event was held in memory of Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa who graduated from WMHS in 2017 and was part of the state champion lacrosse team that same year. This past August, LaRosa passed away during surgery. He went in for a procedure that would have involved a full abdominal transplant due to complications caused by radiation treatment he had received during his battle with the cancer desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma. The Stony Brook resident had beaten the cancer that started soon after he graduated from WMHS.
David Ratner, one of the event organizers, said while a count has not yet been finalized, thousands of dollars were raised for the Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Memorial Scholarship Foundation at the first annual event. The goal of the jamboree and scholarship is to assist scholar-athletes for years to come, according to Ratner.
The Nov. 27 event included clinics for young athletes, Ward Melville alumni competing against teams from Adelphi University and Smithtown, an Old Skool men’s tournament and fastest shot competition. After the games on Nov. 27, an awards ceremony was held at The Bench Bar & Grill in Stony Brook.
The hope is for the lacrosse jamboree to become an annual event and next year’s is scheduled for Nov. 26, according to Ratner.
LaRosa’s mother Gina Mastrantoni described the event as “spectacular.”
“It was an amazing show of love, and it was humbling,” the mother said. “It was bittersweet. I didn’t really have much of a dry eye.”
She added her son is her hero and was a warrior.
“He had the highest level of determination, grit, perseverance,” the mother said.
Mastrantoni attended the event with her daughter Emily, who played on traveling lacrosse teams, husband Bruce Latham, sister Rose Mastrantoni, best friend Dawn Gibbons, who was a jamboree organizer, as well as other friends and family members.
Throughout the day, she saw friends of LaRosa’s that he made during his semester at Adelphi studying and playing lacrosse, and those he had been friends with since his early days in the Three Village school district. Mastrantoni said a group of about a dozen-and-a-half kids from the neighborhood was called the Sluggers.
Among those Sluggers was Dylan Maggio, who played lacrosse for a few years. While Maggio stopped playing in ninth grade, he said on Saturday he played with the 2017 team and even scored a goal.
Maggio described the day as well organized with everyone excited to play. He was impressed with the number of people who attended and said they made the day a rewarding experience.
“We were just surprised with how many people have come to know JoJo where they wouldn’t have before, and how many people he has inspired just by persevering through the things that he was forced to confront,” he said.
LaRosa’s father Joseph LaRosa attended with his wife Gianna and their 12-year-old son James. The younger LaRosa was excited to play with members of the 2017 WMHS team who played with his brother. During the jamboree, Emily LaRosa also played as well as some of JoJo LaRosa’s cousins.
“It was great to see everybody come out and see how many people JoJo touched through his journey and what he has been through,” Joseph LaRosa said.
The father said the organizers “put their hearts and souls into planning this jamboree.”
Dave Purdy, one of the organizers who coached JoJo LaRosa in youth lacrosse for a few years, was on hand Nov. 27 and played in the Old Skool game. He described the lacrosse community as a close-knit one. He added that while the Ward Melville alum only played at Adelphi for a semester due to cancer, the team and coaches always made him feel as if he was a part of them by having him sit on the sidelines with the team during games and fundraising so he can join them on a trip to Tampa, Florida. So, it was no surprise to organizers that former lacrosse players from Adelphi took part in the jamboree.
“It was just a great day to remember JoJo for the game that he loved so much, and see it all come together,” Purdy said.
He added, “Just seeing old friends down there, community members who used to go to travel tournaments together and maybe had not kept in as close contact, they get to see each other down there at Ward Melville High School and The Bench afterward.”
At The Bench at the end of the day, Maggio’s band SWIM played for the attendees. LaRosa’s friend sang the song “Everybody” by rapper Mac Miller. The song is a remake of Love’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live.” LaRosa told Maggio he liked the song during a trip to Vermont with friends. It was just the two of them in the car at the time.
“It just reminds me of that drive with him,” Maggio said. “It just reminds me of hanging out with him one-on-one. I really cherished those times.”