‘A great honor’: Shelton High football team dedicates Friday’s game to former player who died

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — The Shelton High football team will pay tribute to one of its own Friday when the squad kicks off its season against FCIAC rival Ridgefield.

The football team is dedicating the game — which starts at 7 p.m. at Finn Stadium — to its former star quarterback Xavier Sandor, who died by suicide in April while on deployment with the U.S. Navy.

“This is a great honor,” said Sandor’s father, John Sandor. “It’s touching for me.”

John Sandor said the players will be wearing logos with Xavier’s number and an X on their helmets this season in remembrance of the former Shelton High gridiron star. The school already retired Sandor’s number.

“This is a wonderful way to keep his memory alive … to make sure his story keeps going,” John Sandor said.

“It's a great honor Shelton High School is dedicating this game to our beloved Xavier but also heartbreaking for the reason why,” said Sandor’s mother, Mary Graft.

“The Navy failed our son and our family,” she added. “Every day is a struggle for us, knowing he's never coming home. How could we ever feel normal again when a part of us is gone, forever. We love and miss Xavier so much it's painful.”

The U.S. Navy did not immediately return requests for comment.

Principal Kathy Riddle said the theme for the night is “Red, White and Blue,” recognizing Xavier’s Naval service. High school senior Jake Gigliotti, co-captain of the Finn Fanatics, ordered red, white and blue shirts for students to wear during the game.

“We want to provide an opportunity for our kids to safely grieve and honor their classmate,” Riddle said.

This comes weeks after family and friends gathered at Sandor’s parents’ Timberlane Drive home as the Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Memorial Torch Motorcycle Ride escorted the memorial flame to pay tribute to his service and sacrifice.

Xavier Sandor graduated from Shelton High in 2021, where he starred as the football team’s starting quarterback. His parents said he chose to enlist in the Navy, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle, Pat Wynne.

He went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., earning the nod as yeoman leader and graduating as an expert marksman. He then went to A school in San Antonio, Texas, where he graduated as a master at arms.

“His first duty was on the USS George Washington, which was dry docked in Virginia,” John Sandor said. “Within three months he’s gone.”

Xavier was 19 when he died on April 15, Good Friday, just months after his deployment to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. His death was part of a cluster of suicides aboard the ship. His parents have spent the past four months not only dealing with the grief but also fighting for answers about why it happened.

For John Sandor and Mary Graft, the wait for answers continues, but events such as Friday’s football game further demonstrate the lasting impact Xavier had on the Shelton community.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com