By Larry Moko
Sean Dennison filled a special role when St. Mary Catholic Secondary School unveiled its new artificial turf playing field.
“I’m a bit of a conduit between the present and the past,” he explained.
A former high school football player for five years at St. Mary, Dennison currently serves as the head coach of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association’s senior Crusaders. And one of the speakers during opening ceremonies Friday was his former St. Mary coach, Len Gargarello.
“I’m a history teacher and I love Hamilton football history,” Dennison said after the Crusaders dropped a 35-7 decision to the Bishop Ryan Celtics.
“Having football connections through the years is really important. It’s a privilege to have (Len) around … especially this year with the new field.”
In addition to the new carpet (it replaces a grass surface) outdoor upgrades at the west-end school include field lights, stadium seating and a press box. Young students from St. Mary feeder schools were invited for the historic occasion. There were food trucks on site and the field was blessed prior to the charity senior-junior doubleheader.
“The day as a whole was amazing,” St. Mary Principal Brian Daly said. “It was a great celebration of everything St. Mary.
“We had a pep rally in the morning and the students responded better than we ever could have hoped. It was a celebratory atmosphere all around. And it didn’t stop just because we were on the short end of the score.”
History, too, was made in the fourth quarter when Shane Smith scored the Crusaders’ first touchdown on the new surface. Trailing 35-0, the Grade 11 student caught a pass from scrambling quarterback Ethan Riggs and raced 82 yards into the end zone. Luca Varo rounded out the scoring with a convert.
Said Daly: “I thought it was a great way to finish the game and create great memories for the kids.”
Bishop Ryan (2-1) opened the scoring in the final minute of the first quarter on a six-yard touchdown run by Levar Anderson. Before the half, the Celtics tacked on two more rushing touchdowns – a 35-yarder by Dylan Bernardo and a 24-yard burst by Anderson.
The Celtics also struck through the air. Starting quarterback Sebastian Masotti found Adrian Allen behind St. Mary’s pass coverage for a 64-yard scoring play. That was followed by a 23-yard touchdown strike from substitute quarterback Nathaniel Krbavac to Luca Jones. Anthony Ventura chipped in with five conversions.
“I have to give St. Mary credit,” Celtics coach Darren Maludzinski said. “They came out and gave us a look we haven’t seen before. It gave us a bit of a scare. But we adjusted and rose to the occasion.”
The Bishop Ryan coach said his team features a skilled set of running backs along with an effective offensive line. “Our offensive line was creating holes that I probably could have run through,” he said.
Dennison’s squad (0-3) is young. He hopes the Crusaders can enjoy and benefit from the high school football experience as much as he did.
“I believe I’m standing here right now because I played high school football,” the former university star and veteran of 18 coaching seasons at Cardinal Newman and St. Mary said. “Every coach will tell you the lessons learned on the field are absolutely transferable to the lessons in life.
“There’s a lot we deal with and talk about before they take the field. Kids have issues in their lives these days that I don’t know if I had when I was their age. Football gives them an avenue to kind of learn stuff.”
The field at St. Mary will have multiple uses. “It’s a classroom for our phys-ed students and a place of worship,” Daly said. “We’re going to have a mass on it in the spring. It’s a place where we celebrate athletics and build community by being with each other.”
All seven of the HWCAA schools now feature artificial turf fields.
Said Dennison: “This was a special day for the kids. It’s an honour to have this facility.”
St. Mary took the junior contest against Bishop Ryan, 21-13.
In other HWCAA senior action, the St. Thomas More Knights stretched their undefeated streak to four games with a 64-0 win over the Bishop Tonnos Titans and the second-place Cardinal Newman Cardinals (3-1) topped the Cathedral Gaels, 27-0.