10-year anniversary: Finding beauty in tragedy

The Stockton Record | Thomas Lawrence

Jose Zaragoza and Zona Zaragoza Van Gelderen, with a picture of their son Matthew, who died 10 years ago during a football game. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD

MANTECA — The mother of four remembers the last words she’d ever hear from her youngest son.

Matthew Zaragoza Van Gelderen wanted his mom, Zona Zaragoza Van Gelderen, to make sure to come to his and the East Union football team’s game on Sept. 16, 2005, at Bear Creek High in Stockton. Not only did Matthew live for suiting up on Fridays with his family in the bleachers, but he especially loved going on the road.

The bus ride. The pregame entrance with his teammates. The incomparable ambiance.

Matthew’s little sister, Kristy, was at a birthday party, and his mother was telling her to hurry up. They needed to get to the game, after all.

By the time they’d arrived, the first quarter had already ended. Jose Zaragoza, Matthew’s father, was waiting in the stands. Matthew’s twin sister, Katrina, then an East Union junior, was supporting her brother as a cheerleader.

Matthew collided with a Bear Creek player on a kickoff return in the second quarter, his helmet connecting with the boy’s chest, and he suffered what would be a lethal head trauma. Continue reading