NEW BERLIN – On Friday, the Unadilla Valley Central School District paid tribute to former student-athlete Payton Stirone. Stirone was just 22 years old when he suffered fatal injuries in a car accident on July 23.
Payton grew up in the New Berlin area where he loved hunting and fishing, golfing with his brothers and friends, and riding four-wheelers. He graduated from UV in 2018, where he made many life-long friends and had a major impact on the baseball, basketball and football teams. For everyone who knew Payton, they remember he had a big heart and could always put a smile on your face.
At his tribute, an estimated 225 people attended, where everyone signed a white jersey and helmet that will be put in the UV trophy case in Payton’s memory.
Among those who attended a few shared their memories of Payton.
Matt Osborne, UV’s Athletic Coordinator, knew Payton well as his baseball and basketball coach. He helped the athletic department hold this event.
“He was one of the most caring people that I have ever known,” Osborne said. “He cared about everyone and was always willing to lend a hand moving equipment or helping line a field or rake the baseball field. He was a role model for so many students. Kids would walk by him and shout his name, ask for a high five and Payton would always make sure he spoke to them and let them know he cared. He will be greatly missed.”
On the baseball field, Osborne described Payton as a hard-working player who had a great sense of humor at the right time. Payton played wherever he was needed, whether it was in the outfield, shortstop, or even on the mound. He was the Storm’s lead-off hitter and his speed on the bases was phenomenal. Payton finished his senior year batting an impressive .414 with three doubles, two triples, and 13 RBIs.
Jason Miller, Payton’s former modified and varsity baseball coach, also shared his perspective of watching Payton on the field.
“Each day Payton showed up with a dapper and welcoming grin. I appreciated that about him and I appreciated his unrelenting hustle and drive. I appreciated that he hated to lose more than he liked to win,” Miller said. “He treated everyone with respect and compassion. There is a giant ripple in our universe, the size of this wave is the legacy of Payton. I'm grateful to have known him and watch him. I will forever hear the echo of his voice motivating the dugout "LET’S GO BOYS!"
In basketball, Payton was known to be more of a defensive specialist.
“He could lock down the other team's point guard or best player with his physical style of play. In practice or games he was always hustling, and diving on the floor for a loose ball and most of the time it was head first with no fear,” Osborne said. “Our greatest memory together was winning the Section IV Class C Championship at Cortland his senior year. He was a vital part of the success of the team. I will always remember the bear hug after that game from Payton.”
UV’s former Superintendent Bob Mackey also enjoyed watching Payton excel in athletics. Mackey appreciated talking with Payton after games and hearing his perspective as a player.
“On the field or court, he wasn’t the tallest of players on any of his teams, or those players on the opposing teams. However, he was gifted with a heart to work harder and run faster allowing him to outlast so many others,” he said. “He was coachable, always wanting to improve, and he was fearless. He would line up against opponents twice his size and out run them, or make sure they knew he wasn’t afraid to tackle them. He truly competed way beyond his size and I always attributed that to his heart and his desire as a spectator.”
Through the eyes of a spectator and a sports influencer, Payton impressed WCDO’s Sports Director Nate Lull.
"The first time I saw Payton, he was taking a handoff. He hit the line, broke free, ran for 15 more yards before being dragged out of bounds by two players. At that moment I thought, that kid was born to play football, “ Lull said. "Payton lived for Friday Night Lights. When he stared out at that field, you could notice it. He lived for the game and I will never forget that about him."
As for many others in the UV community, Payton will be remembered most for his gratitude off the field.
"For all his athletic accomplishments I think Payton will be remembered the most for his genuine and caring personality off the field,” Lull said. “He was always quick to help anyone in need. People flocked to him and he could always make you smile. That was his greatest gift to us."
Lastly, Bob Mackey and the rest of the UV community hopes to continue honoring Payton even if it is just by spreading his love on life.
“I will always remember how happy he was and how he would unconsciously spread happiness with those he was with. His grin, his smile, and even his mischievousness made my day so many times,” He said. “If we all do anything to honor him moving forward, let us listen, care, invest time to grow, and spread happiness like Payton did in life.”
A further memorial gathering will take place on August 20 at noon at the Genegantslet Fire Company in Greene. Donations in honor of Payton can be made to the RJ Fahy Funeral Home in Norwich.