It was the last time Tino would see or talk to her Aunt Jen again.
Jennifer Tino worked as a financial analyst with Marsh and McClennan in Manhattan.
On September 11, 2001, she died along with the many that perished during the terrorist attacks when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Another plane hit the Pentagon and still another was forced into the ground in rural Pennsylvania.
It has been more than 10 years since that sad day and, while those that lost loved ones still miss them dearly, many others who were children at the time of the tragedy have grown up to be individuals with memories of their own. As they've grown, they have made surprising and unexpected connections with those who knew their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and friends who died that day. This story is about one of those situations.
Gianna Tino felt that playing soccer kept her close to her Aunt Jen, an outstanding three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball, softball) at Caldwell High School.
"I feel she gravitated towards soccer so much more (than basketball) because of the love of the game in her heart was so strong,'' Gianna Tino said. "She belonged on that field.''
The younger Tino played soccer for years on recreation teams. When she began attending Hanover Park, she made a connection that she didn't expect with her varsity high school coach Kate Daidone during her sophomore year.
"It was around the time of September 11th,'' Daidone said. "We knew Gianna was going to be out. Someone said that her aunt died on 9/11.
"I finally put two and two together. I thought 'Wait a minute. Gianna's aunt Jennifer is Jennifer Tino.' That's when it all connected for me. I knew her. I played against her.''
Daidone's maiden name is Vedder. She was a standout forward on the Morris Catholic soccer team as well as a varsity basketball player for the Crusaders. She clashed many times with Tino's aunt. Daidone did not know that Jen Tino lost her life at the World Trade Center until that moment.
Once the thought of the former Caldwell standout struck her, once-dim memories of fierce battles on the soccer field and the basketball court immediately surfaced.
"She was the goalie on the Caldwell soccer team,'' Daidone said. "She was a good athlete. I think I was a sophomore when she was a senior. She was very good. We had very good battles.''
Mike Teshkoyan, who vividly remembers those teams, is still coaching Caldwell soccer. Tino was a captain in her senior year.
"She was small in stature,'' Teshkoyan said. "That's not to say she wasn't talented but her skill was in her passion. She was a good teammate and a good leader. She told me she would lay awake at night thinking about certain teammates and trying to find ways to help them. ... If she wanted to be remembered for anything, she would say she wanted to be remembered for being a really good teammate.''
Teshkoyan said that the teams at the school still pays tribute to her from time to time and there is still a scholarship set up at Caldwell High in her name for the player in any sport who best exemplifies the qualities she exhibited as an athlete.
"We did well on her teams and won county and state championships,'' Teshkoyan said. "In softball, we were a little more decorated. She played center field. She was definitely very skilled. She had plenty of support from her family. We had pasta parties and she wasn't afraid to show off her family. She was very proud of her Italian heritage. We also went to the same church, St. Aloysius, and her family was very active.''
Of course, over the years, family and friends would talk about her. She was a quiet, friendly person that changed her demeanor once the whistle blew.
"She was a sweet and innocent person off the field and, on the field, she was a completely different person,'' Gianna said. "She was very competitive.''
Much of Jennifer Tino's athletic endeavors ended after high school but not her will to succeed. Her competitive spirit was channeled into her studies.
Tino graduated from Caldwell High in 1990 and she moved on to earn a degree at Marymount College in Virginia. She looked for a finance job in New York City and found it at Marsh and McClellan, a company that would be devastated by the September 11 attacks.
Gianna loved her aunt and vowed to keep playing soccer in order to keep a connection with her. Counting her seasons with the recreation and high school teams, it has been 13 years in all in which she put on her cleats. Once Daidone made the connection, she understood why Gianna would sometimes go into a funk or miss a game or a practice or two in mid-September. The Tino family has never attended the ceremonies that occur in Manhattan at what was Ground Zero.
"We don't go to the exact site,'' Gianna Tino said. "We usually go to a ceremony at the Caldwell football games. We'd rather remember her more locally in Caldwell.''
A plaque to Tino and two others who lost their lives during 9/11 can be found in Crane Park on the corner of Bloomfield Avenue in West Caldwell.
Numerous Internet tribute sites have been set up over the years by those who lost loved ones to the attacks. Marsh and McLellan has its own Web site and has put up a physical monument to the 295 colleagues and 63 consultants who perished that day.
Former friends and colleagues have posted remembrances of Tino recounting soccer practices or times she was seen studying during spring break. One stirring passage from a former teammate vividly defined her as "someone of independence and courage."
"If the actions of the multitude defied any element of Jen's convictions, she had absolutely no qualms about standing alone. I respected and admired that and consequently she never stood alone. In fact at only 5-foot-2, Jen stood taller than anyone else I've ever known. It was that confidence and strength of character that inspired me to walk with her and not amongst the multitude.''
It's with those sentiments that those who knew Jennifer Tino, including Gianna, live on. She may have kicked her last soccer ball for Hanover Park but she would like to continue to be involved in the sport of soccer in some manner because of the bond with her Aunt Jen. Gianna Tino has not decided on a college but knows would like to pursue a career in broadcasting.
"She taught me to never give up. Anything is possible,'' Tino said. "She inspired me to keep trying and I did so on the field and every day because I know she is watching.''