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Track meet honors tragic teen

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As students from schools throughout the Bronx ran the track at Villa Maria Academy, on Saturday, May 10, they did so in honor of an athlete who passed away much too soon.

For VMA Physical Education teacher Michael Bernard, the moment was bittersweet, as he, along with help from track directors, Victor Ferguson, Donald Lyons and George Febles presided over the second annual Evan M. Bernard Memorial Track Meet.

Bernard’s late nephew, Evan M. Bernard, was a nationally ranked high school wrestler, who died in 1999 after a routine shoulder surgery turned deadly.   

A breathing tube meant to be inserted into Evan’s trachea, was instead inserted in his esophagus, resulting in a loss of brain function 15 minutes into what was supposed to be a minor surgery.  He was only 17-years-old.

“I do this out of love for my brother Gary, because he and Evan were as close as any father and son could be,” Bernard said about his brother’s tragic loss.

Bernard stated that Evan was a strong athlete who never knew the word ‘give up” and was able to take a loss in stride.  Pointing to great sportsmanship qualities and how much it meant to Evan to be part of a team, Bernard added that his legacy still lives on in the students he teaches today. 

“Even though he’s left this earth,” he said,  “Evan is still a role model for my students.”

And parents were thankful.  VMA kindergartener Melanie Ann Broderick’s parents donated a $6,000 Crown Monument granite bench to the school to honor Evan’s memory.

Hundreds of students and family members from VMA, St. Benedict’s and St. Frances De Chantal, also came out Saturday afternoon to show their support.

But not only for Bernard.  This year’s race was also held in special memory of Ferguson’s son Victor, who died from an unexpected heart attack at the age of 34, right before his daughter Courtney was to start kindergarten at Villa Maria.

 “He called me and told me, ‘Dad, I found this great school up in Country Club for Courtney,’” Ferguson said.  “He couldn’t see the fruits of his decision to send her to this great school, so it’s great to give back to this place in his memory.”

In honor of Victor, a special award was given out in his honor. 

Third grade student Gabriel Tarantino and fourth grader Reece Ragusa were voted the Victor N. Ferguson Most Inspirational Runners. 

Kindergartener Rebecca Menna and fifth grader Lauren Lyons, who has made a name for herself in wins at the Colgate Games and record breaking performances at the Northeast Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship, were voted the Evan M. Bernard Most Outstanding Runners.

And while those runners deserved great applause for their strength, Bernard offered even greater applause to the 50 volunteers who helped make the track meet possible.

 “I’m touched that so many people support this track meet even though the didn’t know Evan; particularly Sr. Theresa Barton, my principal,” he said.  “Without all of you, this never would have been possible.”

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