One last high school game. The final score irrelevant, as were the individual statistics.
In fact, the true outcome of Saturday night's 55th annual DFRC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game may not be known for years to come. That's when the 72 young men who took part in it will look back on the experience and realize just how much it impacted their lives.
"Playing in the game gave me my first chance to be with a young person with an intellectual disability," said Tony Glenn, who played in 1973 and currently serves as executive director of the game's benefactor, Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with intellectual disabilities (DFRC). "I was so afraid at first, which gave way to shame because of my fear. Then nothing but love followed. It changed my life and that is why I am still in the DFRC family today. The experience was very much life-changing for me and still continues to be."
This annual tradition brings together the state's top senior players, who compete to win, but take the field knowing there is a much greater purpose to the game, one which can't be measured in yards gained or touchdowns scored.
"It’s way more than just about the game," Gold running back and recent Middletown (Middletown, Del.) graduate Scott Adkins said during a break at the week-long training camp. "It’s more about our relationship with our Buddies."
Each senior participant is given the opportunity to take part in DFRC's Hand-In-Hand Program, considered to be the heart of the Blue-Gold experience. Since its start in 1974, this unique program pairs the senior participants with a "Buddy," a person 4-18 years old with an intellectual disability.
The players and Buddies spend time together during the months leading up to the game, building friendships and learning valuable lessons about diversity and acceptance. And the highlight of the game is when the Buddies come on to the field just prior to kick-off to be reunited with their larger-than-life heroes. It’s a memory that never fades.
"I’m 58 years old now and I can still reflect on this game – coming here, living in the dorms, being involved in this game." said Gold head coach Bill Collick Sr. of Cape Henlopen (Lewes, Del.), who was named outstanding lineman in the 1970 game and is coaching in it for the first time.
Participating in the game is a tradition that spans generations. Blue quarterback Tyler Hrycak, a second team All-State selection after leading St. Mark's (Wilmington, Del.) to the title game in the fall, is a third-generation participant, following in the footsteps of his grandfather (1964) and father (1984). Gold fullback Nick Munoz’s grandfather and older brother played on the Gold squad, as did Collick's cousin and son. The list could go on.
For many players Saturday night's game, which was won by Blue for the fifth-consecutive year, 12-3, was the last time they will don shoulder pads and strap on helmets. There was no trophy handed out and no championship rings will be ordered. Instead, players walk away with something that can't be put on a shelf or hung on the wall.
"The relationship we each build with our Buddy lives on forever and affects each of our lives more than any win or loss," Adkins said.
Seventy-two young men walked on to that field Saturday night as All-Star players … each of them walked off it a better person.
What a way to go out.
Game notes: Line backer Sam Goines of A.I. du Pont (Wilmington, Del.) won the Michael K. Webb Award as the game's most outstanding player and Ernest Higginbotham of Wilmington Friends (Wilmington, Del.) won the Blue Hen Touchdown Club's outstanding lineman award. … The Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association (DIFCA) honored Sean Hopkins from Sussex Central (Georgetown, Del.) (Gold) and Keevis Thompson from Howard (Wilmington, Del.) (Blue) with the Jim Williams Memorial Award for contributing the most to squad spirit and morale during the training period, as judged by teammates and coaches. … The Blue-Gold All-Star game is the longest-running game in the country to benefit the same charity. … Attendance: 8,552.
Caesar Rodney (Camden, Del.) graduate Ian Snell has been designated for reassignment by the Seattle Mariners. Snell was one of a few athletes featured in last week's issue of Sports Illustrated for battling emotional problems. … Indian River (Dagsboro, Del.) baseball coach Howard Smack retired following the Indians' opening-round loss in the state tournament. Smack coached for 39 years at the middle and high school levels, including the last seven at the helm of the Indians' baseball program. … Milford (Milford, Del.) running back Brandon LeGrand will play football at nearby Wesley College (Dover) in the fall. LeGrand rushed for over 2,000 yards and scored 23 touchdowns last season, ending his illustrious career as the all-time leading rusher in Milford history. … Kevin Tresolini reports in Sunday’s edition of The News Journal that Red Lion Christian Academy's (Bear, Del.) athletic program is under investigation – one that Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Kevin Charles calls the most serious of his five-year tenure.
Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and occasional color commentator for the 1290 am The Ticket High School Football Game of the Week. You can reach him at email@example.com.