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News Story: "CJ followed his heart"
CJ followed his heart

... and left a lesson for us all
Commentary by Ralph Tomaselli

CJ Carrozzella was a versatile athlete.

During his first two years at Xavier High School the wiry teen played on the football team.

As a junior he decided to try a different fall sport. Soccer would have been a natural, CJ was a fast runner with quick reflexes, but instead he joined the cheerleading squad at all-girl Mercy High, Xavier’s sister school.

“He was the first male cheerleader at Mercy,” said his mother, Elisa Ferraro. “He went to cheerleading camp in the summer and said lifting those girls was the hardest workout he had ever had.”

CJ dated one of the cheerleaders, but the switch didn’t turn out that well. His former football teammates gave him a hard time when they saw him cheerleading. Elisa wasn’t sure what CJ was going to do in the fall of his senior year and never found out. In March 2003, three months before completing his junior year, CJ died at 17 from injuries he suffered in a car accident.

In an age when kids as young as 8 specialize in one or two sports, CJ was a throwback to a time when youngsters played lots of sports. Football, baseball, track, basketball, lacrosse, skateboarding, snowboarding, swimming, gymnastics, soccer — CJ tried them all. He never was the star, but had natural ability and loved being part of a team.

“He still holds the long jump record at Moran (Middle School),” Elisa said. “It was the first and only time he tried the long jump.”

CJ’s father, Chris Carrozzella, sits across from Elisa at a conference table in his downtown Wallingford law office, recounting his son’s favorite Little League season. CJ’s AFSCME-sponsored team lost only one game during the regular season, won the Wallingford Little League playoffs and went on to defeat the Yalesville champs in the Mayor’s Cup.

“I still have a ball…,” he pauses, taking a deep breath. ”…it was a game ball from that season. He was so proud.”

CJ was a shortstop and second baseman. Mom loved to see him fly around the bases, but also realized her son was learning more than hitting and fielding.

“He learned a lot of life lessons from baseball,” she said. “His Little League coaches taught him respect for the game and for one another and that stuck with him.”

Chris Carrozzella agreed. “He looked up to his coaches and did everything they asked,” he said. “Which is a lot different than he was with his parents.”

“Don’t go there,” Elisa interjected with a smile and they both shared a laugh.

If he hadn’t died, his mother and father know CJ would have given back to the youth leagues that shaped him. Wallingford Little League recently received a $7,500 check from the foundation’s first annual golf tournament.

The try at cheerleading was part of a transformation CJ underwent during high school.

“One of his teachers told him he was a jack of all trades, but a master of nothing and that really clicked with him,” Elisa said. “He told me that he didn’t want to play football any longer because he knew he wasn’t going to play football in college.”

CJ decided what he did best was dance. He started break dancing with a group from Middletown and renewed his interest in gymnastics. Eventually he began formal dance lessons at United Rhythms Dance Studio in Meriden.

Three weeks before his death, Chris Carrozzella took his son to open auditions at Broadway Dance Studio in New York. Dad was impressed as he watched the tryouts and thought that his son, who had not had a lot of formal training, was going to have trouble with the competition.

“Later one of the teachers came up to me and said: ‘Are you CJ’s father? I told her I was.’ She said: ‘I could see in his heart how much he loved what he was doing. He has something special.’ ”

At the audition, CJ recognized a young man he’d seen in a Mountain Dew commercial.

“I can see it so clearly…,” Chris Carrozzella said, pausing again, trying to hold back tears. “CJ was talking to this guy like he was his best friend and I was thinking what a great experience. Meeting someone who had actually made it on TV must have been so encouraging.”

The family also plans to give $3,500 to Xavier for a performing arts scholarship in CJ’s memory.

The support CJ’s family has received has been overwhelming. The Spirit of CJ Foundation golf tournament sold out, drawing more than 300 in May. CJ’s parents are ecstatic about the successful start and hope it continues. They also realize that as time passes it may be harder to attract a sellout. But like CJ, they are determined.

“In the year after he died every time I visited the cemetery I would find flowers and notes and skateboards and balloons,” Elisa said. “Then I started noticing fewer and fewer things because a lot of his friends had gone off to college. Now it’s mainly just my flowers.

“Which in one way is hard, but in another way is good,” she continued. “His friends are going on with their lives and I want them to all do great things because they all are great kids, just like CJ.”

Copyright© 2004 Ralph Tomaselli Meriden Record-Journal


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