Joe Borrosh didn’t want anyone to forget Todd Pelino.
Several months after the former Pittsford Mendon soccer player was killed during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the initial idea was to retire the No. 9 jersey Pelino wore in the early 1980s. Borrosh, his former coach, came up with a better plan and pitched it to Doug Pelino, Todd’s father.
“How about this: We make Todd’s uniform the uniform of honor,” Borrosh said. “We make that number stay alive because when a uniform is retired nobody knows who wore it in the past, it’s just a nonexistent number.”
Fifteen years later, no one has forgotten Todd D. Pelino.
Thirteen young men have worn No. 9 since then, including two who donned it for two seasons, and each season Mendon’s No. 9 holds a special place in one of the state’s most tradition-rich high school soccer programs. Players vote on who gets to wear No. 9 for the season, and it’s the player who best embodies the characteristics of Pelino, a 1985 graduate who played three varsity seasons before going on to play at Colgate University.
Pelino was 34 at the time of his death and working on the 102nd floor for a financial services firm that fateful day when the world changed. He left behind a wife, two children and a legacy of leadership and unselfishness that lives on at his alma mater.
“We’re very grateful, very appreciative” of the jersey tradition, said Doug Pelino, 74.
A lot has changed in 15 years.
Doug and his wife, Maureen, moved to Florida 10 years ago and are relocating again soon. They’re moving to North Carolina to be closer to their five grandchildren there and four more in New Jersey. Todd’s younger brothers, Terry, 48, and Matt, 46, both former Mendon standouts, live in the Charlotte area.
Todd’s widow, Megan Pelino-Whalen, now lives in her native New Jersey. She remarried five years after Todd’s passing, Doug said, and has added two more kids to Doug and Maureen’s brood of nine grandchildren.
Todd and Megan had two children, son Bennett, now 17, and daughter, Annie, 15.
Annie was scheduled to be among the family members who’ll read off names of lost loved ones during 9/11 ceremonies in New York City this weekend, Doug Pelino said. Not only did she lose her dad, but also her mother’s sister also died in the attacks. Bennett spoke to his father over the phone a couple of hours before the planes flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11, as the father phoned home to wish his son good luck at his first day of preschool.
Bennett is a varsity soccer player now in New Jersey. He wears No. 9.
“I personally think it’s the highest honor a Pittsford Mendon soccer player can achieve, above all-state, All-Greater Rochester, All-American,” Borrosh said. “If you can wear that number it tells (people) not only things about your ability but an awful lot about your character.”
Pelino’s enthusiasm and optimism was contagious, Borrosh said.
“He was a happy kid and he brought that happiness to whatever he did,” said Borrosh, 79, a 2011 inductee to the National Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame who retired in 2002. “But in spite of being a happy, wonderful person who enjoyed soccer, he was tenacious on the soccer field. He would do everything legally that he could do to win a game.”
Pelino was a competitor and a leader, but the most important thing Mendon players have learned about Pelino’s impact from hearing Borrosh or current Mendon coach Mark Hurley describe him, is this: Always put the team ahead of yourself.
Borrosh remembers one match against Brighton when Pelino, a forward, was drawing a lot of attention from the defense. At halftime, the coach told Pelino to drag those defenders away from goal and become a decoy to create space for his teammates. It worked. His teammates scored and Mendon won.
“He didn’t have to get his name in the paper. He didn’t have to score the goals. He just wanted to win and that trait made an impact on the Mendon teams to come,” says Borrosh, whose teams won 498 matches, six state titles and 16 Section V crowns in his 32 seasons.
The first player to wear the No. 9 jersey after Pelino’s death was Angelo Suozzi in 2002. Borrosh also had a hand in selecting the next one, Michael Pecchia, in 2003. Pecchia was chosen right before Borrosh retired following the 2002 season. Since then, Hurley has held a team vote. As part of their year-end evaluation that they share with the coaching staff, Mendon players include their selection for who should wear the No. 9 jersey the following season.
Some list themselves and explain why they’d be a good choice.
“It’s usually unanimous and usually who the coaching staff would have selected if we were picking,” says Hurley, a 1991 Greece Athena graduate who succeeded Borrosh and has coached a pair of state champions and five sectional winners in 13 years. “We take a lot of pride in that person who gets that honor but (that person) also gets a lot of responsibility with it to be that ideal teammate.”
Adrian Padilla, a senior forward, was voted by his teammates to wear the Pelino jersey this fall.
“It means these people that I grew up with trust me to lead them,” said Padilla, 17, whose father, Donald, a retired state trooper, worked for a couple months at Ground Zero during the cleanup following the attacks. “It shows that they respect me not only as a teammate but as a leader (and have) passion that I show to them and give to them.”
Hurley praised Padilla for his hard work in the off-season to become a better player. He’s also the player to jump in and start a drill in practice. “He’s just that guy you want to be around that makes everyone better,” Hurley said.
Pride wearing it
In July 2002, 10 months after the 9/11 tragedy, Mendon dedicated the scoreboard in honor of Pelino at what was then called Joe Borrosh Field. The school opened a new turf field this month and the scoreboard still features Pelino’s name. It’s a daily reminder for players.
A picture of the teenage Todd Pelino in his Mendon jersey is displayed in a hallway near Mendon’s gymnasium. A plaque beneath it lists every player who has worn Pelino’s No. 9. His father said he wasn’t aware of any reason Todd chose that number. It’s just the one he was assigned.
Two players have been voted by Hurley’s teams to wear No. 9 twice: Steven Suozzi (he’s Angelo’s younger brother) in 2006 and 2007 and Pete Hill in 2004 and 2005. Those were their junior and senior seasons.
“I didn’t feel added pressure but I certainly felt more pride every time I put on the jersey,” said Hill, 28, who now lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, where he works as an insurance underwriter. “It was an unbelievable honor.”
He got to meet Pelino’s parents a few times and speak with them about their son.
Andrew Smith, 23, a recent University of Michigan graduate with an engineering degree who works for Ford Motor Co., wore No. 9 in 2010.
“Whenever I’m back home or talking with former teammates the big question is: Who is wearing the number nine this year?” Smith said.
Hill continued to wear No. 9 at Syracuse University.
“It was a symbol,” he said, “of something much bigger than a game, a team or a school. I wasn’t only representing my school and family, I was representing Todd’s legacy and the Pelino family.”
The No. 9 list
No. 9 for Pittsford Mendon boys soccer is called the program’s “Jersey of Honor.” It’s a tribute to 1985 graduate and former player Todd Pelino, who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s voted on annually by teammates. A picture of Pelino in uniform and a plaque with every player that has worn the jersey is displayed in a hallway near Mendon’s gymnasium.
2016: Adrian Padilla.
2015: Jimmy Keneally
2014: Ryan Aspenleiter
2013: John Vangellow
2012: Josh Eidem
2011: Slater Jameson
2010: Andrew Smith
2009: Luke Tylutki
2008: Nick Wendel
2007: Steven Suozzi
2006: Steven Suozzi
2005: Pete Hill
2004: Pete Hill
2003: Michael Pecchia
2002: Angelo Suozzi