After a series of sunny days, the rain came pouring down on Sunday. But that didn’t stop friends and family members from attending a memorial golf tournament to honor the memory of Mellissa Anne Andrew, a beloved Avon High School senior who lost her life in a car accident in Harwinton last summer.
This past September, Conor McCarthy, a senior at Avon High School, decided to organize a golf tournament in memory of his close friend and classmate for his senior mastery project. He contacted Anne Marie Piehl, Andrew’s mother, for permission.
Piehl said she went “back and forth” at first, but after talking it over with friends, she gave McCarthy her blessing.
“It’s been a lot of excitement — the town, friends, family and school — everybody has been so enthusiastic about it. I think … everybody [coming] together and working together … is also helping [them] to heal,” Piehl said.
McCarthy and his committee — Anne Marie Piehl, Phil Yanaros, Jake Tussin, Tom McCarthy, Kathie McCarthy, Fran Russo and Diane Condon — have spent the last six months organizing the tournament.
“It has been a really exciting experience … I had no idea what it took and it was a lot of work. I’m glad to have family and friends who gave me a lot of support. My committee is excellent,” McCarthy said.
According to Kathie McCarthy, the event sold out with a total of 265 registrants. The event is expected to raise approximately $50,000 — double their initial goal — for the Smiles for Mellissa Fund, which was created to pay for a sign language teacher at Avon High School.
The first class, Introduction to Sign Language, will start this fall with up to 20 students.
“We’re here today to celebrate her life and to carry on her legacy with something she was passionate about,” Piehl said. “She wanted to be an elementary school teacher for children with disabilities.”
Andrew, along with the rest of her family, used sign language to communicate with her brother, Aidan, who has Down syndrome.
“Children with Down syndrome usually do not have a problem with receptive language, which means they understand what is being said. The delay most children with down syndrome experience is in expressive language.
This is where sign language comes in … basically it gives a way for the child to communicate while their expressive language skills are being developed," Piehl wrote in a statement read by her brother at the tournament.
The Piehl and McCarthy families will hold another tournament next May to raise additional funds for Smiles for Mellissa. They hope to add more sign language classes at the high school and eventually start classes at Avon Middle School as well.
The Smiles for Mellissa logo is a runner going up a mountain: Andrew was a cross-country runner at Avon High School. The mountain is an outline of Andrew’s smiling upper lip from her prom picture.
“No matter what, she always was smiling and she always had a baby or a child in her arms,” Piehl said.
The master of ceremonies was Bob Maxon, the weekday morning meteorologist on NBC Connecticut News Today. The tournament, which started at 1 p.m., was followed by a dinner and awards ceremony, which included a teacup auction and raffle. Some of the larger auction items included a trip to Hawaii, box seats at a Red Sox game and a flag autographed by Phil Mickleson.
“It worked out great … everyone was so generous,” McCarthy said.
For more information or to donate to the Smiles for Mellissa Fund, please visit www.cmac.golfreg.com.