Matty Sardella’s Spirit Lives On in 25th Annual Golf Tourney

02Sep11

It’s unusual for events like memorial golf tournaments to last a quarter century. But on September 17, 2011, the 25th annual Matthew Sardella Memorial Golf Tournament will tee off at Reedy Meadow at Lynnfield Center Golf Course.

Matthew J. Sardella, a 1986 graduate of Wakefield High School, was a journalism student at Salem State College at the time of his death in May 1987. He was an outstanding goalie for the Wakefield High School hockey team from 1984-1986, and was named to the North All Star Team in his junior and senior years. He was awarded Top Defensive Player and MVP trophies. He also played high school football and baseball.

Matty was vice president of his class for four years, was a member of DECA and volunteered for various fundraising efforts including the Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation Telethon. He did all of these things while battling daily with the asthma that would eventually claim his life.

“It’s a wonderful tribute to Matty’s memory,” says his brother Lou of the tournament’s longevity. “It’s awe-inspiring that he touched so many people in so few years.”

The first annual Matthew Sardella Golf Tournament was held in the summer of 1987, just months after he died. Over the years, the charity golf tournament has raised over $50,000. Each year, the proceeds from the tournament are split between the WHS hockey program and the Citizens’ Scholarship Fund that bears Matty’s name. Since 1988, 55 recipients have received scholarships totaling nearly $20,000.

This year, the name of Christopher J. Sardella has been added to both the golf tournament and the CSF Fund. Christopher was Lou’s two year-old grandson who died last year in a tragic accident. Christopher was the son of Justin Sardella and Laura Galante.

“Louie called me a couple of months ago and asked if we could combine it to include Christopher,” says Tony Germanetto, Matty’s high school friend and one of the golf tournament organizers. “We had wanted to do something special for the 25th anniversary. What better way to honor the 25th than to add Christopher?”

For Germanetto, there’s no mystery about why the tournament has lasted so long.

“Matty’s spirit and who he was is what brings people back,” Germanetto says. “The spirit Matty had just doesn’t go away.”
That spirit is illustrated by Matty’s hockey career, and perhaps no better than the historic 1985 quadruple overtime game in the Division I North hockey quarterfinals against a heavily favored Watertown team.

Matty’s father, Louis Sardella, remembers that game well and wrote an essay to commemorate it. The game took place in March 1985 at Merrimack College in an arena packed with 5,000 screaming fans. As the teams took the ice and the crowd anxiously awaited the start of the game, some Watertown fans targeted Matty with a chant of “You’re too small! You’re too small!”

“Indeed Matty was small,” his father wrote. “Matty had taken large amounts of medication all his life [to combat his asthma] which seriously inhibited his normal growth patterns. However, only his physical stature was affected, not his intense competitive spirit.”

Rather than cave in to the taunts, Matty raised his goalie stick high in a gesture that indicated that he was ready for whatever his opponents could throw at him.

The bigger, favored Watertown team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. One more Watertown goal would almost surely have ended Wakefield’s tournament hopes.
But there would be no more Watertown goals – not in regulation play or in the four overtime periods that followed after Wakefield tied the score. Matty turned away shot after shot, demoralizing his opponents and inspiring his own teammates to unprecedented heights.

Wakefield won the game 5-3.

Afterwards, Wakefield coach Dave McCarthy likened Matty to a “steel curtain” in the net. Watertown coach Dick Umile said, “The big difference was Sardella.”

It’s yet another tribute to Matty’s powerful legacy that members of that Watertown hockey team have come to his golf tournament year after year, a testament to the respect that they had for Matty. They are expected again this year.

“He touched a lot of lives,” Matty’s father, Lou, reiterated this week. “It wasn’t just young people. He really reached out to older people. He had a certain magnetism. He didn’t try to do it. It was just there.”

In an editorial after Matty’s death, the Wakefield Daily Item wrote, “A wave of shock and sadness enveloped this community Sunday when word quickly spread that 19 year-old Matty Sardella had died.”

My mother had a special fondness for her youngest nephew. I can still hear the sadness in her voice when she called to tell me that my cousin had died. “I have some bad news to tell you,” she said when I picked up the phone.

Germanetto says that he and the other regular participants look forward to the golf tournament and outing every year as “a day to get together and remember Matty.” He says that as the crowd has gotten older, married and had children, the day has evolved into a real family event.

“We wake up on that day and smile,” he says, adding that the tournament has gotten to the point where it “pretty much runs itself.” The format is a 9-hole scramble and also includes individual contests for things like longest drive. Traditionally, the winning team wins tickets to a major sports event. Past prizes have included Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox tickets.

There will be one shotgun start at 12 noon on Saturday Sept. 17 at Reedy Meadow at Lynnfield Center Golf Course. The event also includes a post-golf party with food and raffles.

For golfers, the donation is $70, but for $25 you can just come for the food, which starts at about 3 p.m. Call Tony Germanetto for entry forms at 781-246-4151 or 781-608-1007. Registration forms must be received by Friday, Sept. 9.

Even if you are not planning to attend the tournament, you can still make a donation to the Matthew and Christopher Sardella CSF fund at PO Box 2107, Wakefield, MA 01880. Donations of raffle items will also be gratefully accepted. Contact Tony Germanetto to donate raffle items.

Since Matty’s death, Germanetto says, he has often drawn strength from the words inscribed on his friend’s headstone: “The purpose of life is to reach out eagerly without fear.”

“I’ve gone to the cemetery and read that and it’s helped me through a lot of hard times,” Germanetto says. “The spirit Matty had just doesn’t go away.”

[This column originally appeared in the September 1, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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3 Responses to “Matty Sardella’s Spirit Lives On in 25th Annual Golf Tourney”

  1. 1 Diane Sardella Harrison

    I loved reading this article about my cousin Matty. It makes me feel proud to call him family. Thank you for the opportunity to read about how special he was to all.
    Diane

    • 2 Peter J. Dawson

      I enjoyed reading the article. Though I did not know Matty personally, I have known other Sardellas from Wakefield. A soft spot in my heart is there for them. Fitting tributes sometimes are not where they should be—this IS a worthy one, and one that does pull at our heartstrings. Thanks for reminding us of two of our “Wakefield family.” Pete Dawson

  2. 3 Marjorie Doto

    Matty was such an amazing person. He inspired so many no-one who met him could ever forget him. Hockey games, Midget hockey tournaments and were always a lot of laughs with Matty around. R.I.P Matty so many miss you


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