Northeast Times

Encore presentation

With graduation looming, local players from the Catholic and Public League suited up one more time for the high school football City All-Star Game.

  • Curtain call: Archbishop Ryan teammates Jesse Wireman (left) and Connor Rooney discuss the Non-Public’s 34-20 victory in the 40th annual City All-Star Game. Wireman forced a fumble and Rooney had six tackles in their last football game together. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Last hurrah: Some of the City All-Stars leave the field after a series. Players include Archbishop Ryan’s Joe Hansbury (No. 82) and Father Judge’s Joe Nigro (No. 31). The former rivals banded together for a convincing 34-20 triumph.

When the high school foot­ball City All-Star Game rolls through town, there are no short­ages of things to play for.

With a fath­er and uncle who had played in this con­test once upon a time, Con­nor Golden and Con­nor Rooney had legacies to hon­or. Mean­while, Joe Nig­ro vowed to go hard on every single play in hon­or of a ser­i­ously in­jured team­mate who was un­able to lace them up.

They all prom­ised them­selves — and each oth­er — one thing: the play­ers who made up the Non-Pub­lic League roster would leave it all out on the field in their fi­nal con­test as high school foot­ball play­ers. They owed that to their team­mates, old and new.

When the clock ran out at North­east’s Charlie Mar­tin Sta­di­um on a pristine Sat­urday night, Rooney, Golden, Nig­ro and their Non-Pub­lic team­mates had pre­vailed over the Pub­lic League, 34-20, in the city’s 40th an­nu­al all-star foot­ball show­case. Thanks to a stel­lar de­fens­ive ef­fort by the three afore­men­tioned play­ers, as well as many oth­ers, this trio got to walk off the grid­iron one last time as win­ners.

And after spend­ing the pre­vi­ous four years try­ing to one-up each oth­er in the rugged Cath­ol­ic League, the rivals-turned-team­mates all en­joyed the ride, brief as it may have been.

“My dad played in this game his seni­or year at North Cath­ol­ic, so it meant a lot to him to see me play in the same one,” said Golden, a wide re­ceiv­er/free safety from Arch­bish­op Ry­an who will play his col­lege ball at Buck­nell Uni­versity in the fall. “Now, I’ll al­ways be a part of his­tory. Not every­one gets to say that, so it was pretty cool to be chosen.”

Rooney, a line­back­er and Raid­er team­mate, agreed with Golden.

“I had an uncle who played in it, and he came to watch me,” said Rooney, who had six tackles in the vic­tory. “It’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause all of a sud­den the guys you were so used to try­ing to stop are play­ing on your side. There’s a lot of tal­ent on both sides. There’s a little weird­ness, so­cially, at first, but after two or three prac­tices every­one comes to­geth­er nicely.”

In all, sev­en Ry­an play­ers and five from Fath­er Judge, in­clud­ing Nig­ro, par­ti­cip­ated in the game. The Non-Pub­lic squad, which also fea­tured play­ers from the Inter-Ac League, jumped out to an early 14-0 lead; Car­din­al O’Hara’s La­Mont Veal scored on a 26-yard run on the game’s first drive. Later, after Ry­an’s Jesse Wire­man re­covered a fumble to thwart a bur­geon­ing Pub­lic drive, the Non-Pub went on a 14-play, 91-yard drive punc­tu­ated by Dashawn Darden’s (O’Hara) eight-yard TD pass to Kend­all Singleton (Arch­bish­op Wood). 

Samuel Fels su­per­star Jy­lil Reed­er (3 catches, 140 yards) scored on an 80-yard TD strike to make the score 14-6, but the Non-Pub scored the next three touch­downs, in­clud­ing Rooney pres­sur­ing the quar­ter­back in­to throw­ing a 55-yard pick-six to make the score 21-6. Veal and Singleton would score again, be­fore the Pub­lic League scored two straight times to end it, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton wideout Has­san Brock­man’s 44-yard TD catch. Reed­er was named the of­fens­ive MVP on the Pub­lic side.

It was a dom­in­ant de­fens­ive ef­fort, as the Non-Pub­lic team al­lowed just 47 rush­ing yards on 25 car­ries while for­cing four turnovers. Nig­ro, a middle line­back­er who was a de­fens­ive stal­wart for the Cru­saders, was heav­ily in­volved in the ac­tion.

“I couldn’t ask for a bet­ter way to end my high school foot­ball ca­reer,” he said. “These last four years, I nev­er thought I’d end up be­ing friends with my rivals, guys I’ve played against. As the prac­tices for this game went on, we be­came closer and closer. I can say I made a lot of new friends, which is pretty cool.”

Nig­ro and the oth­er Judge play­ers in the game had even more to play for. One of their Cru­sader team­mates, Jim Galasso, was se­lec­ted to play in the game but was un­able to go after he and two oth­er Judge stu­dent-ath­letes were at­tacked dur­ing a March 21 al­ter­ca­tion on Row­land Av­en­ue near Lin­coln High School. Dur­ing the in­cid­ent, the trio was stabbed a com­bined 20 times, in­clud­ing 11 wounds for Galasso, the most ser­i­ously in­jured of the three. 

Un­able to play, Galasso sat in a wheel­chair on the side­line with his mom, Joanne, close by. While the oth­er two at­tack vic­tims, cous­in Joe Galasso and foot­ball team­mate Tom Bay­er, have re­turned to school, Jim Galasso has not. He can­not walk without the aid of crutches, and is mostly con­fined to a wheel­chair with his left leg im­mob­il­ized in a large brace. 

“It killed me see­ing Jimmy not be­ing able to play,” Nig­ro said. “I’m used to see him lin­ing up next to me on de­fense. It’s great to see that he’s do­ing bet­ter, but it kills me that he couldn’t be out there with me. Hav­ing your team­mates out there, it gives you a com­fort level. It’s what you’re used to, and I wouldn’t want it any oth­er way.”

For Nig­ro and Rooney, the game rep­res­en­ted one fi­nal shot to play to­geth­er as team­mates. The two grew up play­ing to­geth­er for Holmes­burg Boys Club be­fore de­cid­ing to at­tend rival high schools. 

“We played to­geth­er from, I’d say, age 5 to 14,” Rooney said. “Even when we went to rival high schools, he was still one of my best friends. We’ve been close for a long time. We’re go­ing to dif­fer­ent col­leges, so it was great for us to play to­geth­er one last time, and for our par­ents, as well.”

Above all else, the City All-Star Game gives these stu­dent-ath­letes, ones who have worked so tire­lessly per­fect­ing their craft the last four years, one fi­nal shot at glory be­fore gradu­ation, adult­hood and the real world come call­ing in the com­ing weeks and months. 

It’s their ver­sion of a cur­tain call, one fi­nal oc­ca­sion to go out and proudly rep­res­ent their school and team­mates one more time. After that, everything will change, something the play­ers are all cog­niz­ant of.

“School ends, then I leave for Buck­nell in early Ju­ly,” Golden said. “It’s kind of cool, and I can’t wait for col­lege, but I don’t want to leave all my friends be­hind. There’s mixed feel­ings. It’s hard to join a new team after be­ing with the same guys the last four years. It kind of hit me at the end there that this was the last one. But it still feels good to say we did something spe­cial.”

“We knew this was im­port­ant, and above all else, we wanted to win,” said Nig­ro, who will play foot­ball in the fall at Delaware Val­ley Col­lege. “Judge has been my second fam­ily and will be for the rest of my life. You’re foot­ball play­ers, sweat­ing every day do­ing whatever it takes. It’s a fam­ily that sticks with you forever, and I can also say I made some new friends on top of that the last few weeks. That’s what makes it the best ex­per­i­ence for me.”

Like the oth­er two, Rooney said it was something he’ll re­mem­ber forever.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber how every guy just played a great game,” said Rooney, whose next stop is Moravi­an Col­lege. “My little broth­er is 7 years old and he’s already play­ing foot­ball. Maybe when the 50th game comes around, I’ll be able to watch him play in this game. The en­tire ex­per­i­ence is something I’ll nev­er for­get.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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