This Father’s Day will be a difficult one for Cameren Cornetta. It’s the first since the death of his father, Chris, in early March.
Cameren, 19, shares many of the same passions as his father, a lifelong resident of North Attleboro. Becoming a firefighter is first on the list, but sports would likely be second.
Chris was a youth sports coach, serving at the helm of the North Attleboro Pop Warner football team when Cameren started playing at the age of 7. Cameren admits that at first, his dad really didn’t give him much of a choice; he was going to play, he said. But looking back, Cameren’s glad he did. He fell in love with it.
“If he wasn’t at the fire station or working, he was helping me out with sports, bringing me to (New England) Patriots games,” Cameren said of his dad, a season ticket holder for more than three decades. “I’ve been going to Patriots games with him since the 2005 season. That was a lot of fun, a lot of memories there.”
When father and son weren’t watching Pats’ games together, Chris was watching his son represent the Big Red.
Cameren was a three-sport athlete for the majority of his athletic career at North Attleboro High School, from which he graduated last week. Cameren spent all four years on both the football and lacrosse teams. He played three years for the school’s hockey program, too.
His senior lacrosse season started just a few weeks after his father died on March 4. Chris was stricken while clearing his driveway of snow at the family’s home on Kelley Boulevard. He was 51 years old. The suddenness brought a shock to the family, as well as the town of North Attleboro, where Chris was referred to as “The Mayor” because he knew people everywhere he went.
Melissa Cornetta, Cameren’s mother, recalls her son having an indoor lacrosse practice the night before Chris passed. The conversation regarding how practice went that Sunday night would have been among the last conversations they had, she said.
Cameren debated if he could play lacrosse his senior season due to the emotional burden.
“I mean, the thought did run through my head,” he said. “But after a lot of thinking, I knew the best thing I should do is play because that’s what he would want.”
“I feel like if I didn’t play he probably would’ve been pissed off,” Cameren added with a laugh.
It’s been said countless times, but Cameren’s situation truly shows the larger impact sports can have.
“It was nice to get away for a couple of hours and go hang out with all my friends,” Cameren said. “The first couple days of lacrosse I was like, ‘This sucks.’ I hated the first couple of days, but once we got into a routine it started to get better. The routine definitely helped.
“If I wasn’t at lacrosse, I was either going to the fire station and hanging out with them or I was at home. And when I was at home, it was just like the emotions took over. So, it was good to get away.”
“I think it totally helped him,” she said. “It took his mind off things, whether he was going to practice or games. And I liked that he was still involved with the team.
“I was thankful that he decided to stick it out,” Melissa added. “It made me feel like I was still involved with the parents. I felt like I needed to go to all his games because it’s something Chris would have done. Chris was definitely into all his sports.”
Still, it was difficult.
“It was kind of like an empty feeling,” Cameren said of his father not being at his son’s games as he always was.
Cameren played his senior season with the word “DAD” on his lacrosse helmet. He said a few of his teammates, including Nick Morse and Nate D’Amico, friends who played for his dad during the Pop Warner days, also wore something on their helmets, while North Attleboro captain Ryan Boyle, one of Cameren’s closest friends, was instrumental in helping him through the season.
North Attleboro coach Kevin Young, who has been at the helm since 2007, remembers telling Cameren to take off as much time as he needed to start the season. Cameren missed only one day, Young recalls.
“I think he knew that his dad would want him to keep playing,” Young said. “I think the team supported him the best they could, the best they know how. It’s not like kids that age are used to doing that either, but they were good about it. They were really good. I was happy for them, too.”
Young recalled a pretty emotional night from the spring season. Cameren was a defensive midfielder whose main contributions were usually digging up ground balls and making the hustle plays that rarely find the box score. But on senior night, he scored three goals.
“He had the biggest crowd there,” Young said. “All his family members, they were the loudest for him. He started picking up his game and going to the net. He was feeding off the crowd. That’s a great experience to walk away with.”
“A lot of my nieces and nephews were there,” Melissa said. “That was really tough. I didn’t know how tough it would be, but Cam took that hard.”
Young said the lacrosse program could definitely not take the majority of credit when it came to helping Cameren, however. And Cameren agreed. He said the fire department played as big a role as any during the difficult time, a time when the healing never ends.
They continue to do so.
Cameren spends two days a week at the fire department, where his dad worked full time for 25 years. Chris started full time in August 1993 after being an on-call firefighter since 1989.
“I go twice a week, the days that he would do with his shift, and I ride with them and observe,” Cameren said. “So, those two days are probably my favorite days of the week just ‘cause I hang out with them and pretty much do what he did.
“That’s what I want to do in the future. So, that’s my favorite part of the week and it helps me get my mind off him again.”
Cameren started going to EMT school this week, what he called “a good step in the right direction.” It’s a step that will help him follow in the footsteps of his dad.
“My whole life I’ve want to be a firefighter because he has been one forever,” Cameren said. “He’s the one that got me into loving this job.”
Following EMT school, which runs from eight to 12 weeks, Cameren will work more at the department before going back to paramedic school this time next year. After that, he is hoping to get hired full time.
The brotherhood and support the fire department showed following what Cameren called the worst day of his life confirms he is doing exactly what he thought he wanted to do.
“They were just unbelievable, the support they gave me and my family. It was just really crazy,” Cameren said. “At his funeral, there were guys coming from St. Louis, New York. I was just looking at the different patches on their dress blues and all the different cities and towns. I just thought, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
The Sun Chronicle reported that more than 1,000 people attended the services for Chris.
“The number of people who attended Chris’s wake at St. Mark’s Church was a tribute to a man who was loved by many and will be something his family will always remember,” Peter Gay wrote in a column published in The Sun Chronicle in the days following the services.
Cameren said he continues to progress, though some days are difficult.
“It’s up and down,” he said. “Every day is different.”
One thing that will never change, however, is his inspiration.
“I just did it all for him this season,” Cameren said.