Written by Jackie Saunders
Leaning against the fence surrounding Ramapo High School’s football field, Vahid Najafi shook his head in amazement.
On the field, flag football players wore T-shirts with his son’s number, 54, and the phrase “No Regrets.”
The players were Ramapo High School alumni and students practicing for a flag football game in memory of Babak Najafi, who died in his Syracuse University dorm room in December at age 18. He had arteriosclerosis, an uncommon heart disease for young males.
“The whole thing is very overwhelming,” said Vahid Najafi, blinking away tears. “I couldn’t ask for better support. Everyone still comes and visits us.”
Babak Najafi, known to friends as Bob, was a 2005 graduate of Ramapo High. Proceeds will fund the Babak Najafi Memorial Scholarship, which will be given to a student who exemplifies Najafi’s leadership skills and excels as an athlete. Organizers hope to make it an annual event.
After attending a memorial service for Najafi at Syracuse, Jose Lavarino and Aaron Goldstein knew they wanted to plan an event to honor their friend.
“Football is something he loved,” Goldstein, 18, said of Najafi, who played center. “We are here to have fun and get the family together to remember a great guy.”
The four flag football teams, dressed in white, gray, green and gold, played single-elimination games and one championship game.
Green bracelets and shirts with Najafi’s name and number were sold beside the bleachers, where spectators bought refreshments.
“Bob was always a person who loved to give back,” said Josh Louis, who played football with Najafi since seventh grade. “We will always be a team no matter how far apart we are.”
Najafi’s girlfriend of two years, Lauren Lopez, wore his No. 54 football jersey while she helped manage the event.
“It has been so rough,” Lopez said. “I was always known as ‘Bob’s girlfriend,’ but the whole football team has accepted me as their friend; they are acting the way Bob would have acted.”
Before the football games began, a moment of silence was held and several friends of Najafi read speeches and poems in his memory.
“Bob was honest, energetic and he changed me for the better,” Lopez said in her speech. “He made me feel alive.”
Football coach Bari Vitolo remembered how Najafi impressed him as a sophomore when the junior varsity scrimmaged the varsity.
“Bob is the measure of a man,” Vitolo said. “He loved Ramapo football and he wanted to be a Gryphon forever.”