Northeast Times

Judge football returns from trip of a lifetime

In ad­di­tion to play­ing a foot­ball game, the Judge trav­el­ing party ex­per­i­enced many of Ire­land’s sights, in­clud­ing the Cliffs of Mo­her. PHO­TOS PROVIDED BY THE TONER FAM­ILY

Start­Frag­ment

Fath­er Judge seni­or Dan Toner was ut­terly fa­tigued. He was also ex­tremely sore and com­pet­it­ively dis­ap­poin­ted.

So then why was he in such a good frame of mind?

“We did something that no oth­er team at Fath­er Judge had ever done,” Toner said. “This was something that none of us will ever, ever for­get.”

No ques­tion.

If you took a poll around the coun­try and asked how many people have ever flown more than 3,000 miles to play a high school foot­ball game, odds are you wouldn’t find many.

However, you will find 47 Fath­er Judge Cru­saders who can raise their hands and say, yes, our high school team boarded a plane in Phil­adelphia, had a lay­over in Bo­ston and then fin­ished a 3,164-mile trip to Shan­non, Ire­land, fol­lowed by a scen­ic, two-hour bus drive to the city of Dub­lin, just to play one foot­ball game.

“So as we were on the plane com­ing home,” Toner said, “I was def­in­itely feel­ing really good deep down even though I was bruised and bummed that we lost the game.”

MORE THAN JUST A GAME

Of course, the five-day stay in­cluded much more than a 20-6 loss to Notre Dame Pre­par­at­ory High School of Scott­s­dale, Ar­iz. In fact, as the play­ers and coaches later ac­know­ledged, the grid­iron battle was sec­ond­ary.

In ad­di­tion to some prac­tice ses­sions, there was a de­cent amount of tour­ing, sampling of loc­al cuisine, march­ing in a parade, a Uni­versity of Notre Dame foot­ball game against Navy and, be­lieve it or not, auto­graph sign­ings.

Play­ing a for­eign ver­sion of a sport called foot­ball — which is known as soc­cer to the Ir­ish and many oth­er coun­tries around the world — the Cru­saders were con­sidered mini-celebrit­ies as they met teen­age peers be­fore and after play­ing some Amer­ic­an foot­ball be­fore an es­tim­ated 10,000 fans in­side Navan’s Clare­mont Sta­di­um, about 30 miles out­side of Dub­lin.

“That was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” seni­or cap­tain and two-way line­man Vince LoStracco said. “All the Ir­ish kids wanted our jer­seys and our spikes. I was nev­er asked to sign an auto­graph be­fore. I was think­ing, ‘Wow! This is what pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes get to do every day.’”

LoStracco said he was happy to sup­ply his John Han­cock, but as for the oth­er re­quests, he wasn’t as gen­er­ous.

“I only have one pair of spikes,” he said with a chuckle. “Some guys gave people their gloves. It was an ex­per­i­ence that was bey­ond cool.”

Like many in the large con­tin­gent that in­cluded 47 teen­age foot­ball play­ers, a full coach­ing staff and many par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers, LoStracco had nev­er traveled out­side the United States. He had only been on a plane once be­fore, about eight years ago.

In terms of in­ex­per­i­ence in the air, seni­or team­mate Brandon Spatz has him beat.

“First time on a plane,” said Spatz, who, like many of his team­mates, were ad­mit­tedly nervous as the plane de­par­ted Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port. “No way was I go­ing to let that stop me. I was really ex­cited from the time we learned about the trip.”

COM­MUNITY CRU­SADE

Fath­er Judge head coach Tommy Coyle ac­know­ledged that it was nearly im­possible to men­tion all of the many people who helped make the trip a real­ity.

Among them were ex­tremely gen­er­ous alumni, the play­ers’ fam­il­ies that needed to raise $2,000 each, the world-renowned Glob­al Ire­land Foot­ball Tour­na­ment (GIFT), loc­al busi­nesses such as Lloyd Six­smith Sport­ing Goods and many an­onym­ous be­ne­fact­ors.

“We have an in­cred­ible com­munity,” Coyle said. “The gen­er­os­ity was over­whelm­ing. So much work — so much plan­ning — goes in­to something as big as this. But I’m not sur­prised that Fath­er Judge was able to make it hap­pen. I’m really not.”

Al­though the Cru­saders lost the game, Coyle said the res­ult did not di­min­ish the “count­less pos­it­ives” that emerged from the trip.

“We re­ceived calls from many people say­ing how our play­ers were gen­tle­men and how they handled them­selves as young adults and how im­press­ive they were,” Coyle said. “I wasn’t at all sur­prised to hear that, but it’s al­ways good to hear non­ethe­less.”

LoStracco said there was “no way” any­one from the team was go­ing to ru­in the event. “We were def­in­itely on our best be­ha­vi­or,” he said. “All of us wanted to rep­res­ent the school well. If any­one had plans to do something stu­pid, we wouldn’t have let him do it.

“But that nev­er came up be­cause every single play­er was on board with what we wanted to ac­com­plish, and more than any­thing else, that was to rep­res­ent Fath­er Judge well and make sure every­one knew we ap­pre­ci­ated what so many oth­ers had to do to make this hap­pen.”

SIMPLY UN­FOR­GET­TABLE

Spatz said that, mov­ing for­ward, the en­tire Fath­er Judge pro­gram would be­ne­fit from the Ire­land jaunt.

“It’s something that people will al­ways talk about,” Spatz said. “You can’t help but be proud of your school and foot­ball team for pulling off something so big.”

Toner agreed.

“On our way home, I thought about how this was something that I was go­ing to re­mem­ber for the rest of my life,” Toner said. “It was such an amaz­ing group of people.”

Toner de­scribed the Ari­zona team as “down-to-earth kids” who were “just like me and my bud­dies.”

“They said they were lov­ing the ex­per­i­ence, too,” he said.

While a mem­or­able stop at the fam­ous Cliffs of Mo­her in County Clare, some 400 feet above the At­lantic Ocean, was a high­light of the trip, per­haps the ul­ti­mate ex­per­i­ence was sit­ting in Dub­lin’s Aviva Sta­di­um watch­ing the Uni­versity of Notre Dame roll past Navy, 50-10, on a crisp Sat­urday af­ter­noon.

“I didn’t think the trip could get any bet­ter, but that was just un­real,” LoStracco said. “It just kept get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter.”

That’s not to say the en­tire trip was per­fect.

“Our ho­tels didn’t have air con­di­tion­ing and beds and bath­rooms were small,” LoStracco said.

And who com­plained about that?

“No one,” he said.

And that pretty much says it all. ••

You can reach at jknebels@gmail.com.

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