Bidding adieu to the EDSAF & Emerson Softball Benefit Tournament on April 13-14 will be a proper, and melancholy farewell to Ari Solimando and her beloved Nexus

What promises to be an emotional few days, on April 13 and 14, will focus on the legacy of the EDSAF & Emerson Softball Benefit Tournament, at Emerson High School.

The tourney was the brainchild of one-time Emerson softball coach, Steve Mondadori, and was held from 2004-2018. Its purpose was to benefit Ari Solimando, a 2004 Emerson High School graduate who was paralyzed in an accident in 2003. Ari was a catcher on Mondadori’s Emerson team.

For many years, Ari would attend the tournament, with her beloved service dog, Nexus, by her side. In 2012, Nexus received an award from Steve for the canine’s tireless work. The event also brought more awareness to Canine Companions for Independence.

Steve Mondadori and Ari Solimando enjoyed a happy moment when Ari’s service dog, Nexus, received an award at the 2012 tournament. 

When the eldest of Steve’s three daughter’s, Andrea, became a softball coach and educator at West Essex, in 2005, the tournament would generally feature a final game between Steve’s Emerson squad and West Essex. Later, when Steve coached at St. Mary High, in Rutherford, the father-daughter rivalry continued.

Steve retired as a head coach after the 2013 season. In 2016, he would join Andrea as an assistant coach at West Essex, and the tournament’s tradition never faded.

In 2017, West Essex’s Alexa Vardiman and Amanda Garofalo shared a light moment at the EDSAF game, with Alexa tying Amanda’s shoe. (Click on photo for larger image)

Even in 2009, when Steve underwent heart surgery on March 13, and was unable to coach, he was there, along with his wife Doreen, watching the tournament, as his youngest daughter, Lea, who played for Steve when she was a student at Emerson, served as a coach for her alma mater.

“I was determined to be back for this game,” Steve had said, in ’09, as Emerson defeated West Essex, 3-2. “I was real happy for my team that they came back to win today. Andrea’s teams had won the last three games in this series, so it was nice to get the win.”

For the entire 15 years of EDSAF, Steve and Andrea would always be there, coaching and supporting a wonderful cause.

A photo for the ages. True love between Ari and Nexus. 

Sadly, Ari’s condition began to deteriorate and she was unable to attend the tournament the past few years. Nexus would transition to the Rainbow Bridge. And then, on May 1, 2018, Ari was called home. She died peacefully, surrounded by her family.

Andrea Mondadori-Llauget, now a wife and mom, as well as her continued work as West Essex’s softball coach, spoke of the tournament’s legacy.

“The EDSAF tournament was a huge part of my dad’s life, for so many years,” said Andrea. “A lot of people were instrumental to the success of the tournament, which ultimately kept Ari’s bills paid, her spirits up and the community to keep fighting for her.

“My father and sisters were so lucky to become members of the Emerson family, and that tournament showed the character of the entire town. Moms, brothers, sisters, husbands, cousins and friends all rallied for Ari, and her family. My father’s heart is in Emerson because of Ari.  She is missed greatly. The tournament this year will be bittersweet, as it comes to a close. I hope everyone that helped over the past 20 years knows how much they meant to Ari.

In 2016, Amanda Garofalo and her dad, Bill, took this photo after a game at EDSAF. (Click on photo for larger image)

“She passed away knowing how much she was loved by everyone around her. And I can’t think of anything better than that.”

In the 2009 EDSAF game, Austin Leigh pitched for West Essex. (Click on photo for larger image) 

Nancy Graf, the Emerson softball coach, announced that this will be the last year of the tournament.

“The EDSAF board has decided to dissolve the charity,” wrote Graf. “With Ari’s passing this past year, we felt the time was right and the charity had fulfilled its purpose.  It has been a long journey, and many of you have been great supporters of EDSAF throughout that time.”

Andrea Mondadori and her dad, Steve. An emotional Andrea wrote of Ari’s passing. “She passed away knowing how much she was loved by everyone around her. And I can’t think of anything better than that.”

Graf’s letter went on to say that this year’s tournament will be called the Emerson Softball Tournament, instead of EDSAF.

“We will still have a game day program, concession stand, music and of course some great softball,” Graf wrote.

Here is this year’s schedule of games.

Emerson Softball Tournament
4/13 N. Milford vs. Hasbrouck Heights 11:00
4/13 Lodi vs. Emerson 1:00
4/13 Emerson  vs. Ridgewood 3:00
4/14 Fair Lawn vs. Old Tappan 10:00
4/14 Ramsey  vs. Indian Hills  12:00
4/14 W. Essex vs. N. Highlands 2:00
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By mike051893

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