Written by Jeffrey Barilli
The Cedar Grove Panthers dedicated their last game to the legacy of Brian Michael Topoleski. Topo, the nickname he was given by his peers, was murdered on July 15th.
My ties to Brian go way back, as I watched him grow from a baby to a man. A true man, who was always quick with a smile and wisenheimer remark. He is my cousin on my mother's side. The tragic news I received that fateful day, still burns deep.
It was refreshing to know that the Panthers were dedicating this rival game against Caldwell to the memory of a Brian, who was robbed of his bright future. I went to the game and enjoyed every moment of it knowing how lucky I was to have known Brian for as long as I did.
Thanks to a tip from a friend, I was informed of the game and made sure I got to go see some great high school football and take part in remembering Brian. Surrounded by his "fan-club" I felt blessed to be a part of the game and especially Brian's life.
Like Brian's Song, the classic film, it happens to be life and we all have to accept death. But this type of tragedy could have been prevented if the two sides talked things out and avoided the dangers of teenage angst going horribly wrong.
The game was a close one, and I was quickly overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions from all of the excitement in the stands, as well as still coping with Brian's death.
I took Brian's brother, Robert Topoleski, with me and was proud to be by his side as he watched his own community come to together to thank Brian for being who he was, a true gentleman.
Unfortunately the Panthers did not win the game, but gave a heartfelt performance playing for my cousin's memory. I will miss Brian always. Events such as this give me sense of thankfulness for his community coming together to support Brian and his family, who are still hurting from the loss of this special person.
What if the two groups of people who met that night, talked things out and came to an understanding of whatever the situation was that night Brian was killed. Maybe they could have become friends and had a good old fashioned game of two-hand touch football?
Brian was a great friend and family member and I thank the Cedar Grove coming up with this idea of dedicating the game to Brian. I hope we all learned a lesson regarding how precious time is when enjoying the company of our friends and family. Nothing last forever, and Brian's death will be a reason for me to change my mind the next time I am faced with a hostile confrontation.