Miami Herald’s Miami-Dade County Athletic Awards
Ysha Arteaga stayed as calm and collected as she could on the stage. Henry Parrish couldn’t help but shed a tear.
It’s still tough to fathom that it has been almost 10 months ago that the Arteaga family lost their son and the Columbus football team lost a brother.
Their strength has been unwavering following 16-year-old Ari Arteaga’s death on July 28, when he lost control of his Jeep Wrangler while driving on Southwest 87th Avenue resulting in a fatal single-car crash the night before the Explorers were set to hold their first football practice of the 2018 season.
“We’re dealing with this together,” Ysha said.
And for this reason, the Miami Herald honored both the Arteaga family and the Explorers football team with its annual Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award at its All-Dade Athletic Awards breakfast on Thursday at the Miami Airport Convention Center.
“This means so much to us,” said Ysha, who accepted the award with Ari’s sister Ariana, cousin Melissa Marti and six of his football teammates by her side as the crowd of about 1,350 gave a standing ovation.
Ysha realized the magnitude of support her family had from Columbus at the Explorers’ season opener against Mater Academy on Aug. 23 when four of Ari’s closest friends on the team — Patrick Silva, Jorge de la Pedraja, Demetrius Ford and Lucas Medina — walked to midfield to greet the Arteaga family with his No. 30 jersey and a team photo.
As she continued to get to know the team better, the overwhelming sense around the players about Ari was that “he’s going to take care of us.”
And he did.
The Explorers played their hearts out on the field, advancing all the way to the Class 8A state championship game. Teammates took turns wearing Ari’s No. 30, and they had “Ari” decals on the left side of their helmets.
As they took the field at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium prior to their state championship game against Jacksonville Mandarin, offensive lineman Luis Cristobal carried Ari’s No. 30 jersey in front of him to lead the team out of the tunnel.
“It’s mixed emotions,” Ysha said. “It’s all these things that are being done in honor of Ari and keeping his memory alive and honoring him. It’s bittersweet. There’s the bitterness of not having him and the sweetness of having him remembered.”
The family also expanded on his teammates’ plan to start a school club in his memory and created the “Be the Light Foundation.” The foundation’s goal, according to its website, is “to spread his spirit by helping children and families overcome obstacles they may face due to unforeseen hardships. Our goal is to shine Ari’s light on their path of need.”
“When time passed and we realized that we had a tremendous amount of support and care and love — not just from our friends and family but from the community, from complete strangers — we felt like we needed to do something for others who needed it,” Ysha said.