John Salamone loved soccer, and he loved his family. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was working at Cantor Fitzgerald when terrorists flew two airplanes into the World Trade Centers. John Salamone was in Tower 1 when the attacks occurred. For three years the family he left behind has quietly and privately mourned him. This year the Salamone family decided to share with the community the life, the passions and the tragic loss of John Salamone.
THE SEPT. 11 soccer game played by the Great Falls Avalanche was dedicated to John Salamone by his family, who moved here from New Jersey shortly after 9/11, and the soccer community. “It’s a very private day for us. We initially weren’t going to be here. This is the first day we are going to live our lives in a different way. We usually just stay home and watch TV on that day,” said Dori Salamone, the sister-in-law of John Salamone.
“They had always stayed home and mourned quietly. This was the year to celebrate his life. It wasn’t the sad, horrendous thing it had been in the past. They are new here, and we’re here to welcome them and envelop them,” said soccer team parent Janet Matijkiw.
Thomas Salamone, the nephew of John Salamone, wore a jersey emblazoned with the number 18, his uncle’s number. “It’s an emotional thing for him,” said Salamone. “You tend to want to protect your children from sadness.”
The idea to dedicate the game to John Salamone came out of an event being held the same day in New York. The Metro Stars, the New York equivalent of the local professional soccer team DC United, played their game that day in honor and memory of him. John Salamone never played professionally but had a love of the game that his sister-in-law says was infectious.
Dori Salamone and some friends recently ran in a race for 9/11 victims, where the idea of having the Great Falls team dedicate its game emerged. “A friend said, let’s honor Johnny. It’s a group thing from a lot of us who did the race,” said Salamone. She never expected the idea to take off as it did or to touch as many people as it has.
Matijkiw, who along with her husband, Roman, created the stickers worn by the Great Falls team, said, “She planted the seed and then we ran with it. It was an absolutely fabulous day. There was such unity. Every parent and child had that sticker on. It was incredible to look out and see.”
“This is such an amazing community. Other people want to do something. They want everyone playing soccer to wear this sticker,” said Salamone. Her son, she said, was “humbled by wearing it.” Another young athlete on the team volunteered to switch jerseys with Thomas on that day so he could wear the number 18 on more than just a sticker.
Before the game the players and the audience observed a moment of silence to honor all the victims of 9/11. “The other team members even wore the American flag on their shirts. We were competitors on the field, but we were united that day,” said Matijkiw. Local soccer commissioner Tony Lamatta, after hearing about the intentions of the Great Falls soccer community, said that all games played on 9/11 should observe a moment of silence, according to Avalanche team manager Michelle Claude.
ALL OF THE MEMBERS of the Great Falls Avalanche wore a sticker with the number 18 and an American flag on it over their hearts for the game. The Avalanche team did not win the memorial game but played valiantly, according to Claude and Salamone. “Like my husband said, they played in John’s spirit, and that was John’s spirit,” Salamone said of the effort made by the children.
“This is a way we can do something positive. We can celebrate something John loved to do,” said Salamone. As she walked through Great Falls after the game ended, Salamone was touched to see the stickers being worn all over town. “They were everywhere,” she said.
“This was not just one person’s idea. It came together from a lot of different people. This is a way we can unite as a community,” said Salamone.
Claude said, “Not only was it a tribute to everyone that had fallen, but we got to see the boys understand what it all meant and what the country went through. They were so young when it happened. They appreciated a little more what Thomas and his family had been through.”
“This was a nice tradition to start. In the future if we’re playing a game on 9/11, we can take a moment to reflect, a moment of silence. Great Falls did lose a lot of people on 9/11. It doesn’t have to be John [Salamone] we are honoring, but we should stop and remember as a community,” said Claude.
John Salamone left behind a wife and three young children when he perished on Sept. 11, 2001.