An Oak Ridge High School student and football player was pronounced dead after a sledding accident Feb. 17.
Dylan Ridolfi, 15, had been sledding with his family at Sheep’s Flat, about a mile away from the Mt. Rose summit near Route 341 in Washoe County, Nev., where witnesses say he had been going at a “high rate of speed” before hitting two trees, said Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Armando Avina.
Deputies were dispatched at 3:34 p.m., with medical units, fire engines and a Care Flight helicopter ambulance also responding. Ridolfi was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:10 p.m.
This was the first sledding fatality Avina remembers deputies responding to, and said, especially “due to the age and severity” of what happened, “our hearts go out to the family.”
Dan Ridolfi remembers his son as carving his own path. “Dylan was a young man who didn’t judge. He didn’t give a lot of thought to what other people thought of him. He just did what he was going to do,” he said.
Dylan, who loved to hang out with classmates, often tried to leave for school in the morning without taking a shower — which his parents gave him a hard time for — not caring what his hair looked like, having thrown together an outfit “he thought was cool,” his father said. For spirit days at the high school, he would color his hair.
“He was a kid who loved being in the moment,” Dan Ridolfi said. “Getting him to do homework was hard. He wanted to do whatever he wanted to do at the moment.” This could prove hard in class, too, where a learning disability made it harder for Dylan than the average student.
Plans for after high school were to follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming an engineer by studying at the University of Nevada, Reno — his father’s alma mater. “He was not just a builder of people, but a builder of things,” Dan Ridolfi said. Dylan was in the process of creating a crane out of K’nex on his ceiling. He had made a series of drawings to make it 3-D. His parents had given him money and he was “trying to figure out, in his budget, how to do it.” Dylan had plans to continue playing football while studying, as “both were equally important.” That dream motivated him to study.
Overall, Dan Ridolfi described his son as “a huge teddy bear.” This sentiment was something he “heard again and again and again from teammates and classmates” at a candlelight vigil held on Feb. 19. “He loved everybody,” Dan Ridolfi said.
Though the average initial reaction to meeting Dylan Ridolfi was intimidation due to his 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound frame, he was a gentle person. When there were children around, Dylan found a toy and “would quietly go sit with them and play. He didn’t have to sit at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving, but appreciated when he sat at the adults’ table,” Dan Ridolfi said. “At the core, that’s who he was as a person.”
This was evident to his coaches and teammates in football.
“Dylan was a big, quiet, tough kid who really loved football and really cared about his teammates,” said Bill Bunce, an Oak Ridge freshman football coach. “He could be funny in a sort of goofy way, and when he played a joke on a friend or teammate it often had something to do with his strength and size. He was the strongest player on the team, easily, through natural brute force.”
Ridolfi suffered a partially torn knee ligament before the season began, Bunce said, but the young player would soldier through the pain, something the coach admired.
“I feel like Dylan was one of those people that is just naturally happy,” Bunce said. “He just had a very happy, low key disposition. He never got mad, and he never seemed discouraged about anything. He smiled very easily and was a relaxed person. There was never any drama whatsoever with Dylan. He was just a big, happy, easy-going, low-key, friendly person. He was not vocal at all, but he was reliable.”
While Ridolfi was shy, Bunce said, he would always greet the coach and would often be found hanging out with friends. “This particular football team was very close to each other, and many of them hung out as friends every day, but I think Dylan was the sort of kid that was happy being friends with everyone.”
Matt Flynn, an offensive coach with the team for over a decade, was close to Ridolfi, who he nicknamed “Big Country,” and remembers the player fondly.
“Dylan was just a great kid,” Flynn said. “His teammates loved him dearly. He always had a smile on his face rain or shine. He was a big kid but a gentle giant. However, once he put the pads on he became a football player. He was also the most spirited kid on the team with his giant Oak Ridge blue mohawk.”
This was Ridolfi’s second year playing football, Flynn said, and he had hopes the player would switch from defense to offense.
“At the beginning of the year he told me all he can play is defense,” Flynn said. “When I asked why he said because last year he could not remember the offensive plays. I told him with his size, his hands and natural footwork that he is a true offensive tackle and that if he wanted on the field this year that is where it would be. He did not take to that very well.”
A week later, Ridolfi told Flynn he was ready to play offense.
“It made me smile because I knew I had a gem to work with,” Flynn said. “It did not take him long to learn our formations and plays and soon he became my starting strong tackle. He was a run blocking machine and was a major reason why this team was so successful.”
The offensive coach saw great potential in Ridolfi, believing that the player could be the next Division 1 player to come from the high school. The week prior to Ridolfi’s death, Flynn had recommended him to the varsity coach for the next season.
“I was so looking forward to watching him on the field for the next three years,” Flynn said. “He will be sadly missed, but his big heart and infectious smile will never be forgotten.”
The candlelight vigil showed the closeness of both his teammates and the community, Bunce said.
“Dylan was simply a great teammate and a great young man,” Bunce said. “He was an outstanding football player with enormous potential, but more importantly, he was kind, hard working, happy and reliable. His teammates and his coaches cared deeply for him and loved him.”
Ridolfi is survived by his parents, Dan and Kristen, brother Andrew and sister Madison.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.