Highlanders pay homage to Brian Parrello

| 15 Feb 2012 | 05:26

WEST MILFORD — The score of the game was secondary to everyone involved. No, last Sunday night at the Ice Vault in Wayne, there was much more than a hockey game going on. The Highlanders played valiantly against North Valley Old Tappan, and this young team lost. But the loss wasn’t the important part of the night. On Sunday night, the players, their families and friends - the West Milford hockey family actually - and those beyond that group, came to honor a former West Milford player who lost his life in Iraq on New Year’s Day 2005. Lance Corporal Brian Parrello was just 19 when he died, only a year and a half after graduating from West Milford High School.

Parrello was a Highlander hockey standout. He wore his number 13 proudly. Now, not another Highlander will ever don number 13 again as the Highlanders retired Parrello’s number during a ceremony before the game Sunday.

“Tonight we pause during the season to pay tribute to and honor the service of one of our own, Lance Corporal Brian Parrello," said Russ Mantione, who organized the ceremony, as the tribute began. “We also are reminded to pay tribute to the men and women of the Armed forces serving our country around the world. We also honor the families of these brave men and women for the sacrifice they make each and every day as their loved ones defend and protect our way of life.”

Mantione didn't know Parrello; he hadn't met Parrello’s family until Sunday night when Nino and Shirley Parrello came to the ceremony. But this hockey dad wanted to do something to show the kids who currently wear the black and gold just how important Parrello’s sacrifice was.

“I wanted to make sure we paid the proper tribute to this young man,” said Mantione. “I wanted to let that family know how much we appreciate what their son did. And these kids (the current team of Highlanders) needed to be a part of it. It’s one thing to say we’re dedicating our season to him. It’s another thing to know why.”

The Highlanders have dedicated their season to Parrello and have worn a patch commemorating his service all year as well as his number 13 on their helmets.

Mantione himself got a glimpse of Parrello through the eyes of one of his former teammates. Ryan Saun played with Parrello when they took the ice as Highlanders. Mantione said he shared some of the stories about Parrello as a high school student and how Parrello was so affected by the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, which made him decide to join the Marines.

“He was a special young man,” Mantione said.

Representatives from many organizations throughout the township came to pay homage to Parrello and his family. Mayor Bettina Bieri, Councilman Joe Smolinski and Councilwoman CarlLa Horton represented the township council. Police Chief Gene Chiosie and police Lieutenant Timothy Storbeck were also in attendance. The police provided an honor guard for the ceremony and members of the school board were in the stands, Mantione said, along with several Marine Corp. members. The West Milford Fire Company #4 brought its Brian Parrello Memorial Fire Truck to the ceremony.

It was a moving ceremony, with team captains Scott Dressler and Samantha Browne carrying Parrello's jersey to where it would be hoisted to the rafters at Ice Time, all while bagpipers from the West Milford High School Band and the Claddagh Pipe Band of West Milford played “Amazing Grace.” Dana Wong, a senior at West Milford High School, sang the National Anthem before the game began.

After the game, the Highlanders went to center ice and lifted their sticks to the sky, in tribute to Parrello.

Collecting for Fallen Heroes Fund

With the Ice Vault waiving the usual $5 entrance fee for the night, volunteer parents from the West Milford Hockey Club collected donations to the Fallen Heroes Fund in Parrello’s name. They collected $381 for the fund.

In closing, Mantione, who called the evening “the most rewarding experience of my adult life,” reminded the players of what’s important both on the ice and off.

“Tonight we have paid tribute to Lance Corporal Brain Parrello, a true hero of the West Milford community,” he said. “We call on the young men and women of this and future Highlander ice hockey teams to honor the past, thrill in the present, to remember that they pave the way for future generations of hockey players who wear the black, gold and white of West Milford with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”