Blue coach Joe Aviola knocked on a University of Delaware dorm-room door at 11 o’clock one night last week and found practically his entire team squeezed inside its walls.
He couldn’t help but smile.
It was bed-check time, and nearly all the Blue players – 37 of them, representing nearly two dozen schools – had clustered in one room for some pre-curfew commiseration.
One of the major tasks for coaches at the Delaware All-Star High School Football game is to, in one week, turn all those individuals from rival schools into a unit. The 58th annual Blue-Gold collision took place Saturday night at Delaware Stadium.
“Since we got to camp, that was our main objective for our team,” Aviola said. “You have 37 players for the Blue and the Gold who are arguably the best in the state. In a limited amount of practices you have to get them to come together in cohesion.”
Encountering that roomful of players, Aviola felt he had partially achieved that.
“They were all sitting around, just having a good time,” Aviola said. “I was like, ‘What are you guys doing?’ They said ‘We’re just hanging out, coach.’ “
Aviola, the Delaware Military Academy coach, played in the 1982 Blue-Gold game after graduating from St. Elizabeth High. During pregame introductions Saturday, he walked onto the field with Michael McNesby, who was his buddy in the DFRC’s Hand-in-Hand program in 1982.
His Blue-Gold experience led Aviola to urge players to get to know one other off the field, and he was pleased they were enjoying one other’s company.
A long Blue-Gold tradition is for players to decorate their helmets with decals of former opponents, now teammates. For instance, a plain gold Salesianum helmet may be festooned with so many stickers from the likes of St. Mark’s, William Penn, Archmere and Caravel that the base color becomes almost unrecognizable.
“There are all these kids who are used to being the playmaker,” said Aviola. “We actually talked about that at our first meeting during orientation back in January, when we were given the opportunity to bring the team into the classroom.”
The message, he said, was, ” ‘You’re going to get a lot more out of this than you’re giving. … Check your ego at the door because, although this is an all-star game, it’s for a bigger cause.’ They embraced that.
“Win, lose, or draw – you’d like to win the game – but, to me, if they take that bigger message out of this experience, I think the coaching staff has achieved that,” Aviola added. “Take a guy like Andre Patton, a headliner player. What a class act he has been.”
Former Blue-Gold participants routinely return for the game. Saturday’s included reunions for the 1963 and 1988 teams.
John Carney, Delaware’s lone representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, spotted Charlie Hope, a William Penn standout lineman who later played in the NFL, and wondered if he could slip into a uniform one more time.
Carney, the Gold quarterback out of St. Mark’s in its 1974 victory, had a vested interest. His son, Sam, a Wilmington Friends graduate, started at quarterback for the Blue on Saturday.
“Coming down here has always been really special for me,” Carney said from the sideline during pregame. “But, I must admit, it’s a little better this year.”
Joe Hemphill is in his 15th – and final – year as Blue-Gold camp director. Hemphill, St. Elizabeth’s long-time football coach and athletic director, is retiring in February, though he may continue as the Vikings’ coach beyond the 2013 season. … Aviola on St. Mark’s two-way lineman Devan Labau, who earned the Blue team’s Jim Williams Award for contributing the most to team morale during camp: “He could have started on offense or defense. By far the best lineman we have. Sound technician and smart kid. He’s also respected off the field. He’s always at meetings on time and he assists other kids with their assignments. And he’s been so involved with DFRC.” … Labau and Gold/Milford slotback Nick Jefferson will be playing at West Chester. … St. Georges defensive lineman James Woodward of the Gold turned down partial scholarship offers from other schools to attend Salisbury (Md.) University because he was so impressed with its physical education program, he said. Woodward wants to teach and coach. He was happy to learn that Gold teammate Butch Booth, a two-way end from Sussex Central, will be his Salisbury teammate. … Many are already looking forward to next year’s Blue-Gold game, which could include at least a half-dozen Division I recruits, such as Middletown quarterback Darius Wade (Boston College), Middletown wide receiver Chris Godwin (Penn State), Salesianum linebacker Troy Reeder (Penn State) and uncommitted Salesianum tight end Brian O’Neill, Milford offensive lineman Andrew Marshall and Archmere lineman Conor Furey.