Northeast Times

An Irish Blessing

— The Fath­er Judge foot­ball team will open its 2012 sea­son on the road — near Dub­lin, Ire­land.

Fath­er Judge foot­ball cap­tains Ry­an Mack­iewicz, 17, Dan Toner, 17, Vince Lostracco, 17, and Brandon Spatz, 17, at the Fath­er Judge gym, Monday, Au­gust 6, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

The clos­ing ce­re­mon­ies of the 2012 Olympic games will take place on Sunday in Lon­don, and then the ath­letes and sup­port­ers will re­turn to their home coun­tries to re­flect on the ex­per­i­ences of a life­time.

Just over two weeks later, a con­tin­gent of more than 150 North­east Phil­adelphi­ans will cross the At­lantic Ocean and land roughly 360 miles to the north­w­est, in Dub­lin, Ire­land, to sup­port their own young her­oes. To the Fath­er Judge foot­ball com­munity, the trip will be an op­por­tun­ity of Olympic pro­por­tions.

On Aug. 28, Cru­sader foot­ball play­ers, coaches, fam­ily, alumni and oth­er sup­port­ers will fly to Ire­land in pre­par­a­tion for Judge’s open­ing foot­ball game against Notre Dame Prep of Scott­s­dale, Ar­iz. The con­test will be played three nights later un­der the lights at a 20,000-seat, grass sta­di­um in Navan, County Meath, about 30 miles out­side of Dub­lin. The trip will cul­min­ate the fol­low­ing night with ad­mis­sion to the Notre Dame-Navy game to be played at Dub­lin’s Aviva Sta­di­um. The Cru­sader group re­turns home on Sept. 2.

It’s a plan that’s been in de­vel­op­ment for well over a year, and now with the de­par­ture date rap­idly ap­proach­ing, mem­bers of the Cru­saders can hardly con­tain their ex­cite­ment.

“We all found out on a Sat­urday morn­ing last sea­son that we were ac­tu­ally go­ing over there, and we’ve been talk­ing about it lit­er­ally every day since,” said seni­or of­fens­ive and de­fens­ive line­man Vince Lostracco. “Not every high school foot­ball play­er gets to go to Ire­land to play foot­ball…it’s not like it’s a once-a-sea­son thing, you know? It’s once-in-a-life­time, and we’re all treat­ing it that way.”

“It gives us an op­por­tun­ity to go over there and show people in a dif­fer­ent coun­try how awe­some this sport is,” ad­ded seni­or line­man Dan Toner. “We’re go­ing to go out there, knock each oth­er around and have fun do­ing it. A game like this, an ex­per­i­ence like this, will really set the tone for the rest of the sea­son. As a res­ult, we’re treat­ing every prac­tice like a game. There’s no slack­ing off right now.”

Trav­el­ing for the Judge foot­ball team is not a com­pletely for­eign concept. In the 1980s, un­der le­gendary coach John “Whitey” Sul­li­van, the team kicked off its sea­sons with a trip to Wild­wood to play St. John Neu­mann near the beach at Max­well Field. Since those Beach Bowl days, the pro­gram has scaled back any grand travel plans, opt­ing to play in closer loc­ales like State Col­lege, or against nearby sub­urb­an schools such as Ne­sham­iny and Coun­cil Rock South.

Cur­rent head coach Tommy Coyle, a 1987 Judge grad who got to ex­per­i­ence play­ing down the shore for the Cru­saders, fondly re­membered the days of get­ting to play a few blocks from the beach. He wanted to do something spe­cial for the cur­rent Cru­sader play­ers, and his long­stand­ing, close re­la­tion­ship with Bill Galla­gh­er, a 1968 Judge alum, al­lowed the seem­ingly far-fetched idea slowly come to fruition.

Coyle and Galla­gh­er’s paths first crossed years ago at Penn Charter, where the former was a young as­sist­ant on Galla­gh­er’s staff. Years later, Galla­gh­er be­came in­volved with Glob­al Foot­ball, a di­vi­sion of Glob­al Sports Group, Inc., a Texas-based com­pany owned and op­er­ated by Patrick Steen­berge, a former team­mate of Galla­gh­er’s at Notre Dame in the early 1970s. The Glob­al Sports Group is a “sports spe­cial events and in­ter­na­tion­al travel or­gan­iz­a­tion provid­ing the op­por­tun­ity for young am­a­teur ath­letes from dif­fer­ent coun­tries to com­pete against one an­oth­er, while ex­per­i­en­cing and learn­ing firsthand about each oth­er’s cul­tures,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s Web site.

A few former Judge play­ers, such as last year’s cap­tain, Eric Con­dron, and Dan Toner’s older broth­er, Kev­in, have played with Glob­al Foot­ball in Europe un­der Galla­gh­er, so the idea lingered enough for Coyle to pur­sue something on a much lar­ger scale.

“In a sense, kids like Eric and Kev­in were trail­blazers for our kids today,” Coyle said by phone Monday night. “They rep­res­en­ted them­selves, their com­munity and their school in a first class man­ner, and that’s sort of where this idea was born.”

With the idea hatched, then came the hard part. Es­tim­ated cost per per­son was ap­proach­ing $3,000 for air­fare, lodging, meals and Navy-Notre Dame game tick­ets; with a group as siz­able as Judge’s con­tin­gent, the total fig­ure soon skyrock­eted.

Massive fun­drais­ing ef­forts soon began, which cul­min­ated in an April 27 be­ne­fit that drew close to 800 people. That, com­bined with the ef­forts of people like Ed Lloyd, a Judge grad and own­er of Lloyd Six­smith Sport­ing Goods in May­fair, has shown even more that few com­munit­ies rally as strongly as the Cru­saders.

“As soon as I heard about it, I was in­stantly ex­cited and fully be­hind Tommy,” said Lloyd, whose store has been selling Judge gear and donat­ing pro­ceeds to the Ire­land fund. “There are big­ger play­ers with deep­er pock­ets than me, but I had the abil­ity as a grass­roots guy to help them raise money. Be­ing a Judge alum, it’s ex­cit­ing for me and my staff to be a part of it.”

Ad­ded Galla­gh­er, who will serve as game dir­ect­or: “I was the con­nec­tion, but from that point on Tommy has just taken this thing and ran with it. He’s done an un­be­liev­able job, as has the Judge com­munity that re­spects and sup­ports each oth­er.”

There were oth­er hurdles to clear, such as get­ting clear­ance from the arch­diocese, as well as mak­ing sure all of the play­ers, many of whom have nev­er traveled out­side the United States, had pass­ports. As Judge as­sist­ant Fran Cos­tello quipped, “It wasn’t ex­actly like plan­ning a trip to the shore.” But once all of the obstacles were in the past and the per per­son cost was sig­ni­fic­antly lowered, it was fi­nally time to be able to cel­eb­rate the trip of a life­time.

“I re­mem­ber the day I went in­to Tommy’s of­fice and he first brought up the idea to me, I think I asked him, ‘What the hell are you even talk­ing about?’” Cos­tello said with a laugh. “Then I thought, ‘Holy s–, this is amaz­ing if it’s even re­motely pos­sible.

“It’s been a lot of work, and the be­hind the scenes stuff has been drain­ing,” he con­tin­ued. “First and fore­most, we want to make sure every­body has a safe trip. We also want to go out there and win a foot­ball game, but either way, we want the kids to learn from it. It’s about more than just foot­ball, and to be able to go over there and ex­per­i­ence a dif­fer­ent cul­ture to­geth­er as a team and with our fam­il­ies will be truly spe­cial.”

When all was said and done, Coyle and his staff wanted to re­ward the play­ers with the once-in-a-life­time trip for con­duct­ing them­selves in a pro­fes­sion­al man­ner on and off school grounds. Few schools in the area preach the im­port­ance of per­son­al con­duct and giv­ing back to the com­munity stronger than Judge, and those les­sons re­main for the long haul and are ul­ti­mately passed down to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Cru­saders.

“The fact that we’ve had so much help [in put­ting this to­geth­er] doesn’t sur­prise me at all,” said Coyle, a Cru­sader for go­ing on 30 years. “To en­hance a young man’s life and give him a pos­it­ive high school ex­per­i­ence is the Fath­er Judge way, and the sup­port has been hum­bling for all of us. It’s bey­ond and of our ima­gin­a­tions to be able to share something like this to­geth­er.”

“Most of our coaches are Judge grads, and all of the dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions have been taught the same thing, from the young­er guys all the way up to guys in their 60s and 70s,” Cos­tello ad­ded. “We don’t take life, or each oth­er, for gran­ted. We want to see these kids do great things.”

After all of the sight­see­ing and team and fam­ily bond­ing, the Cru­saders know they also have a foot­ball game to play, one that could set the tone for their en­tire sea­son. And there will be no rest for the weary, as Judge will travel to Coun­cil Rock South and play un­der the Fri­day night lights just a few short days after their re­turn.

Armed with a tal­en­ted group of seni­or lead­ers, Judge play­ers say that they won’t let the big trip dis­tract them from tak­ing care of busi­ness back in the states.

“I’d tell all of our fans and sup­port­ers to get ready for a fun sea­son,” Lostracco said. “And ex­pect to see us play­ing for a cham­pi­on­ship in Novem­ber.” ••

To pur­chase travel pack­ages to both games or to watch it live, go to www.gift2012.com. To make a tax-de­duct­ible dona­tion, con­tact the Fath­er Judge foot­ball of­fice at 215-338-9494 ext. 1132.

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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