Honoring Joshua Encarnacion with a memorial basketball court in Wantagh


To honor the memory of Wantagh resident Joshua Encarnacion, a memorial committee is gearing up to raise money to build a basketball court in his honor.

Last September, Joshua, 11, died after a battle with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Also known as ARMS, it is a rare type of cancer that starts as a growth of cells in the soft tissue that supports and connects the body’s organs. Following his death, Joshua’s family, Wantagh PTAs and community members came together to create the Joshua Memorial Court Committee.

According to Michael Byrne, a committee member and a friend of the Encarnacion family, the committee contacted the Wantagh school district earlier this year to propose renovating the outdoor basketball court at Mandalay Elementary School and renaming it the Joshua Encarnacion Memorial Court to honor his memory. Joshua, who was a student at Mandalay, had a lot of friends who miss him, according to Byrne.

“The ultimate goal here is to give kids a place to remember him,” he said. “Whether they’re going to shoot hoops or they’re going to play deck hockey, they’ll have a spot to kind of go and hang out and also talk about their friend.”

According to the GoFundMe page for the memorial, the court would be fenced in, and would have all-weather surface court flooring. Committee members hope the area could also host pickleball, volleyball, deck hockey and other recreational activities. The project is supported by the committee, along with school district leaders, the PTAs at all five Wantagh schools, and the Encarnacion family.

To help raise money for the project, Byrne said, the committee will host a comedy fundraiser night in Joshua’s memory on June 26 at the Brokerage in Bellmore. Committee members sold 150 tickets in the first week of June, Byrne said, and, as of last weekend, around 35 tickets were left to sell out the venue.

“People have been very receptive to help out,” Byrne said.

The comedy night will be the first of many fundraisers to come, he added.

Byrne said that Joshua was an outstanding athlete who loved sports. He played basketball in a Catholic Youth Organization league that Byrne coached, wrestled and played flag football. What made him special, Byrne noted, was how he put his teammates’ needs above his own.

“He’s not the kid that was going to run over you and show you that he’s better than you,” Christopher Encarnacion, Joshua’s dad, said. “He’s going to better you at the same time that he’s bettering himself.”

Joshua was one of six children, and was described by his father as “a sweet boy, a good kid and very caring child.” He would talk to the other kids who were wrestling and playing football, and teach them how to improve.

“He was giving,” Jeannette Encarnacion, Joshua’s mother, said. “He loved his friends. He loved to be goofy.”

When he was undergoing chemotherapy at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, community members would donate money, send cards and drop off cookies and flowers, Christopher said.

When Joshua died, his father recalled, the community showed tremendous support. Around 700 people attended his funeral last September at St. Francis de Chantal Roman Catholic Church. The following day, Mulcahy’s hosted a memorial event celebrating his life, which attracted almost 1,500 people.

John Theissen, executive director of the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, helped organize and cover the expenses of the Mulcahy’s event, Christopher Encarnacion said. Theissen’s nonprofit helps sick and underprivileged children, and Encarnacion said he was grateful for the support.

“John Theissen is a great man,” he said.

When Joshua was being treated at the medical center, his father recounted, he would play bingo and other games, and give his prizes to other kids on his floor. Inspired by his son’s generosity, Encarnacion said he plans to start a foundation, the Josh Helps Children Foundation, to help other children and families who are going through or went through what his family did with Joshua.

“He was an all-around great kid,” Jeannette said. “When he was here, when he was present, he knew we wanted to do something. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see what we’re going to do someday for other families and other kids that are going through what he went through.”

For more information on donating, visit tinyurl.com/Joshua-memorial-court.