Playing ball at the All Stars Academy was an integral part of Vincenzo Rizzo’s life.
The 10-year-old Blue Creek Elementary School fifth-grader took private lessons and practiced at the indoor facility on Troy-Schenectady Road. With Vincenzo playing for the North Colonie Youth Baseball Association, the Rizzo family visited the academy often enough that they sometimes seemed like part of it.
“This place here was like a home away from home,” said Tina Rizzo, the boy’s mother.
Then in January 2013, Vincenzo fell ill while the family was celebrating the New Year in Lake George. His parents initially thought he had contracted a stomach virus, since the boy had been vomiting.
However, his condition deteriorated. Within two days, Vincenzo stopped breathing.
The youngster was rushed to the Albany Medical Center Hospital, where he died shortly after arriving. Doctors later learned the boy had what is called an intestinal torsion — a twisting of the intestines that cuts off blood flow — and that he died from a resulting infection.
The tragedy left the Latham family rattled but resolute to ensure the boy would leave a lasting legacy. Tina Rizzo said they decided to start a memorial fund in his memory and dedicate the proceeds toward building a new playground for Blue Creek — something that would serve as a permanent memorial to the bright and popular boy who died so suddenly.
“I’m looking for some kind of positive outcome from this tragedy,” the mother said.
On Sunday, hundreds of youths and parents gathered at the academy for the Second Annual Vinny’s Memorial Wiffle Ball Tournament aimed at raising money for the Rizzos’ vision. The event was timed to Vincenzo’s birthday, a time when the memory of his loss brings powerful emotions to the family.
Next week, Vincenzo would have turned 12. Tina Rizzo said the tournament is an outlet that allows her other children, 9-year-old Anthony and 12-year-old Alexis, a chance to take their minds off their brother’s death last year.
“We know right now he’s not thinking of his brother,” she said of Anthony, as the boy whisked through the crowd to grab a dollar for the concession stand.
Last year’s tournament and other fundraisers held by the family in the past year have pulled together about $70,000 to go toward the playground. Tina Rizzo said the goal is to raise $100,000 by July, when the project is expected to break ground.
The Rizzos have gotten overwhelming support in their efforts, as evidenced by the crowded turnout during a tournament where all the proceeds are going toward Vincenzo’s memorial fund. This year’s event attracted 36 six-player teams, which was 11 more than the tournament drew last year.
“People all around the Capital Region are reaching out and helping,” she said.
Vincenzo seemed to touch so many during his short life. Both artistic and athletic, he had a knack for helping his peers.
He was a member of the “Lunch Bunch,” a group of children at Blue Creek who sit with special education students during lunch. His mother said he took pride in being kind to his peers.
“Basically, his motto was it’s good to be nice,” she said.
His death sent shock waves of grief through the community, and his wake drew nearly 5,000 people, his mother said.
Pictures of the boy now hang by the entrance to the academy, a place where he spent a lot of his free time. Matt Fry, an instructor at the academy who coached Vincenzo, recalled the boy as being full of life.
“He was a great athlete and even a better kid,” he said.
Fry, who has since taken Anthony under his wing, said the tournament helps create some of the joy that Vincenzo brought when he was alive. He said the event also helps preserve the memory of a special boy who touched so many during his short life.
“We want to do this so that his memory is in the forefront of people’s minds,” he said.