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Valley Stream resident wants brother’s memorial restored

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The story Gregory Balestrieri recounts of his older brother, John Balestrieri, dates back 50 years. The year was 1971, and John, a student at North High School in Valley Stream, crowded into a car with a couple of his friends as they embarked on a summer camping trip in the village of Ellenville in upstate New York. It was just your run-of-the-mill guys’ getaway, little more than a fun, adventurous moment in the life of an American teenager.
Gregory, 61, remembered that their mother, Mary Balestrieri, tried to stop John from going, but once his father, Salvatore Balestrieri, gave the OK, John said good-bye and disappeared with his friends. He never came back. At one moment, all seemed right with life, as is often the case, when at the next, the unthinkable happened. Nothing forewarned the Balestrieri family about the specter of something terrible to come, but tragedy came late evening when the police knocked at the door to report that John, 15, had drowned. 
“My Mom was screaming when she heard the news . . . the family was a wreck,” Gregory said. The sudden and untimely death of his older brother struck Gregory to his core as he plunged into grief and silence. He went without food for a week, numb and empty of life. He was 11.
“I was like a mummy,” Gregory said. “I told my brother Ralph that we’re never going to be happy for the rest of our lives. I’ll never forget I said that.”
John was remembered as an excellent junior-varsity pitcher at North High and a player for the Malverne Little League, making the All-Star team at the Pony League at 13. “My brother was a very good athlete,” Gregory said. “When he had his wake, students from the high school filled the funeral parlors, and the whole baseball team from the Malverne Little League came for him.”

An electronic scoreboard dedicated to the memory of the star athlete was donated to the high school through funds collected by North High’s 1972 Booster Club. As time passed and life went on, somewhere over the past 50 years, that old, dilapidated electronic scoreboard was replaced with a plaque at the bottom that read: “In Memory of John Balestrieri. Class of 1973.” But that scoreboard was also replaced, this time with a scoreboard that made no mention of John. About three years ago, Gregory made inquiries about the issue and contacted Clifford Odell, currently the high school district’s assistant superintendent for personnel and administration, and former North High principal Rachel Greene.
According to Gregory, school officials promised to purchase a new scoreboard in John’s honor to coincide with the outfitting of a new turf field, but that promise never came through, and Gregory’s calls were never returned, he said. Now, Gregory is fighting to restore his brother’s memory and not diminish the history of the students who banded together to pay tribute to a lost classmate and friend.
Gregory said he has been told by friends that he might as well not raise dust about his deceased brother, drop the issue and move on with his life. But Gregory said the better part of his life has been “consumed by work” and obligation. Routine and following the normal lead of others has been his safe harbor. More recently, however, he has become more reflective of what it all means. “We’re all just passing through. And you realize when you get to be my age that your years are limited,” Gregory said. Now, he is once again beginning to stop and remember who and what is important, he said, and to do what he can to protect the memory of a brother.
The Herald could not reach Valley Stream North High School officials for comment.

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