Each year, the Pearl River boys soccer community gathers for its annual alumni game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but 2021 was a little different.
The Rebels retired 2018 alumnus Gabe Danton’s No. 13 as part of the Nov. 27 alumni game that the black team won 3-2.
But the winners and losers were less important than the fact that the Rebel community came together to honor Danton, who died in an accident over the summer.
“This one was a little different,” said former teammate and 2020 alumnus Blaine Bourgeois. “Growing up with Gabe and his parents, it just meant a lot more to people in the community because Gabe was a very, very good guy. He was someone that you could always rely on. So when we heard about his death, it was hard on everyone.”
Bourgeois, who joined the Rebels’ varsity squad when he was a freshman, said Danton was a mentor. The two also played together in club soccer.
“Gabe pretty much took me under his wing from the beginning,” Bourgeois said. “He saw what I could do on the field, and off the field, he just made sure if I ever had any issues or problems, he was always the first one to help me out.”
Pearl River seventh-year coach Elizabeth Lee echoed Bourgeois’ comments.
“Gabe was a special person,” Lee said. “It was just a shame. He was going nowhere but up. We had 40 players at the game this year to honor him. It was definitely a special day to reconnect and honor Gabe.”
Chris Johnsen, a 2006 alumnus and the oldest player in the game, said although he didn’t know Danton personally, the number retirement shows the impact the Rebels’ soccer program has on all its players.
“The ceremony was a really nice thing to do, and it just goes to show how close-knit the people are here in Pearl River,” Johnsen said. “When something tragic happens here, people rally around each other to help comfort and console one another. I met Gabe’s father at the alumni game, and he led a team prayer before we kicked off, and that was pretty cool.”
Lee said Danton was “one of the most talented athletes, amazing personalities, and beautiful souls ever to grace Pearl River High School.” Danton also helped coach the junior varsity team.
“Gabe was truly one of a kind, and even though he is not with us physically, he will always be a part of us,” Lee said. “In every laugh, in every smile, and yes, in tears too, the memories may sting, but I would not trade them for anything in the world.”
Lee added that the annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition is an important way to bring the Pearl River soccer community together.
“It was just nice for all the families to get together again,” she said. “They are together for years in the stands with their kids on the field, and then, to come back together every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for our alumni game, it’s really special.”