Six months after her passing, the former West Orange player, coach and teacher had her number retired on opening night.
Fewer nights bring the pomp and circumstance out in sports quite like opening night.
It’s filled with the anticipation of a new beginning for players, coaches and fans alike.
It’s also a time of celebration.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, under a cloudy sky, the West Orange softball team opened the new season by honoring one of its own in a game that was bigger than just softball.
Just before the game started, the Cavanzon family — including John, Johnny and Michelle — stood in front of home plate holding their late daughter Janessa’s old No. 14 jersey that the school framed for them.
“No words; there are no words,” said Michelle Cavanzon, Janessa’s mom, also a special-needs teacher at West Orange High. “I knew they were planning it, but they weren’t telling me anything. The place that we work, the place that she worked — he (Johnny) coached, he (John) graduated from there also — it’s a West Orange family.”
The framed jersey, the “Cavanzon, No. 14” printed on the outfield wall, the No. 14 that can be found on the back of helmets and shoes and the retiring of her jersey were all a part of the surprise for the Cavanzon family, who lost Janessa July 14, 2018, from a heart attack that was triggered by a seizure.
“No words; there are no words. I knew they were planning it, but they weren’t telling me anything. The place that we work, the place that she worked — he (Johnny) coached, he (John) graduated from there also — it’s a West Orange family.”
— Michelle Cavanzon, Janessa’s mom
And to add to the moment, Janessa’s father, Johnny — who had coached her since she was 4 — got the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
“It was overwhelming,” Johnny said. “That was a real special moment, and it really means a lot to throw out that pitch. She played four years here, and I assisted coaching for four years with her. It just brought back a lot of memories. It was awesome.”
During her time as a student-athlete from 2004-07, Janessa became a well-known face around the softball program and school. She was known as the ultimate teammate, Johnny said, and not a half-bad softball player to boot — acting as a captain for the team as a first-baseman.
And although she graduated in 2007, she wouldn’t be away long before she took on a role teaching special-needs students alongside her mother at the school. She also helped coach the JV softball team.
“The first day that I stepped over there, she was always around the field helping, and she would do anything you asked her to do,” said former West Orange softball coach Bobby Brewer. “As far as a family goes, you’re not going to find a tighter-knit family. She was one of the most enthusiastic people. She worked really good for me, and the girls really respected her a lot.”
The love Janessa put into her work at West Orange was reciprocated by those around her. Following her death, there were two celebration-of-life events — one at the gym on campus and another in their hometown of Key West. There wasn’t an empty seat in either house, Michelle said.
“We raised a good daughter; I had an amazing daughter,” she said.
“It just shows you the impact that she had on everybody,” Johnny said.
Janessa created many memories from her teaching work in the community. But her brother John remembers her personality.
He was the younger brother, and although she could pick on him whenever she wanted, no one else was allowed. It was that unforgettable personality that sticks with him.
“You knew when she walked into a room, because she was loud and if you didn’t like her or if she didn’t like you, you’d know that too,” said John, who graduated from West Orange in 2011. “If she liked you, she would be the type of person that would do anything for you. If you were in a fight, she would be the first one there. If you were needing help, she would be the first one there.”
At the end of the night’s festivities, the Cavanzon family was both grateful, even if slightly exhausted.
“It’s overwhelming, but it’s heartfelt,” Michelle said. “There’s not enough thank yous.”