Written by Chris Iseman
Babak Najafi’s tragic death in 2005 left a hole in the hearts of those around him as big as his 6-foot, 250-pound frame. Those people continue to honor him through two things he loved the most: football and school.
A graduate of Ramapo High School, Najafi — known to friends as Bob — was 18 when he died of a heart attack four months into his freshman year at Syracuse University. Najafi’s girlfriend, Lauren Lopez, and several friends created the Babak Najafi Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to a Ramapo senior student-athlete. The seventh annual Babak Najafi flag football games will be held Saturday at noon at Ramapo High School to raise money for the scholarship. The games are open to the public. Those wishing to play must purchase a T-shirt for $12.
“We saw that upon graduating, Bob had said, whatever he did, he wanted to give back to the Ramapo Gryphons and the sports programs at Ramapo that he had been so active in,” Lopez said. “That’s really what prompted it.”
The $1,000 scholarship is given to a student-athlete who shows a dedication to athletics, academics and leadership.
Najafi was a standout center for the Ramapo football team and wrestled during the winter. David DiNuzzo, a member of the Ramapo football coaching staff, was a senior varsity football player when Najafi was a freshman. Even then, DiNuzzo saw Najafi as a captain in the making.
“From understanding what it took both on the football field and off the football field,” DiNuzzo said, “as a student-athlete here at Ramapo, he excelled in both.”
Najafi planned to study psychology and business at Syracuse, with the goal of eventually supporting Ramapo athletics financially. But on Dec. 4, 2005, he died of a heart attack caused by arteriosclerosis. Najafi had two severely blocked arteries.
Maxito Sainvil was the first to receive the scholarship named in Najafi’s honor before earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from William Paterson University. He’s working toward a master’s degree in divinity at the Nyack Alliance Theological Seminary at Nyack College and is a volunteer program director at the Rockland County Crime Prevention Bureau.
“He was a great role model on and off the field,” Sainvil said. “It was an honor to receive it, and the fact that it was in his name made it even better.”
Lopez said money is raised through donations, as well as the sale of T-shirts and wristbands at the football game. But the day is perhaps more to remember Najafi and continue his legacy than it is about football.
That legacy means helping Ramapo student-athletes succeed.
“I’ve had connections with all the recipients we’ve awarded the scholarship to in the past six years — they’ve gone on to be successful, such pleasant people,” Lopez said. “It’s really rewarding to see that.”