NEWARK – Ben Piser was a four-year football starter at Dickinson High, was chosen for the Blue-Gold game and will continue playing collegiately this fall at Division III McDaniel College in Westminster, Md.
Blue-Gold : Fourth-quarter score lifts Gold
He credits those accomplishments to the opportunity he had to play and learn the game at a young age in the Diocese of Wilmington’s Catholic Youth Ministries football league, which includes fourth- through eighth-graders.
Fourteen of the 72 players in Saturday’s 59th annual Delaware All-Star High School Football Game at Delaware Stadium were products of that program, including 13 on the Blue team that draws from northern New Castle County high schools.
“It’s a lot of competition, and they don’t settle for less than your best,” said Piser, a linebacker and offensive lineman who got his start with Holy Angels.
“Before CYM I never really played football, just flag football. It really taught me all the fundamentals, the things you need to know. It gave me a foundation to build off of and refine in high school. Even when I was a freshman, I was definitely ahead of the some of the sophomores and juniors because of that.”
In addition to Piser, the 13 Blue players with CYM backgrounds Saturday, according to the DFRC, were St. Mark’s Brendan Fogarty (Holy Angels), Michael Adams (Our Lady of Fatima) and Zach Whitehead (St. Mary of the Assumption); Salesianum’s Daulton Gregory (Our Lady of Fatima) and Ben Mersman (St. Mary of the Assumption); St. Elizabeth’s Robert Furlong (Our Lady of Fatima) and Joe Schiavoni (Our Lady of Fatima); Archmere’s Conor Furey (St. Mary Magdalen); Charter of Wilmington’s Nolan Shannon (St. Mary of the Assumption); Tatnall’s Brandon Goodge (St. Mary of the Assumption); Delaware Military Academy’s Tyler Lewis (St. Mary of the Assumption); and Friends’ William Gordon (St. Mary of the Assumption).
The Gold also had a CYM alum in Newark’s Ashton Vanderhout (St. Mary of the Assumption). Seven of the 14 are St. Mary of the Assumption products.
“The coaches always had a great work ethic and got us ready to play,” said Whitehead, the Blue starting quarterback Saturday, of his CYM experience. “They taught us really well. We had good mechanics. We had good footwork. As we came up through the ranks we were ready.”
Two other former CYM players out of Salesianum were chosen for the Blue but didn’t play because they must soon report to their college programs – Holy Angels’ Troy Reeder at Penn State and St. Mary Magdalen’s Brian O’Neill at Pittsburgh.
“A lot of the kids coming from Catholic Youth Ministries have been doing it for a long time, so they’re going to be fundamentally sound,” said Blue coach Gordie Greenlea, the Delcastle coach. “You might have to tweak some things here and there with them, but they don’t make as many mistakes. You coach it and they make the adjustment.”
Greenlea said the CYM and other youth leagues are important because of the lack of middle school football programs upstate. Kent and Sussex county high schools benefit from middle-school football programs feeding them, he added, as well as Pop Warner and other youth teams.
The New Castle County Football League is also a popular training ground for young upstate players, while the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend Youth Football League feeds that area’s strong football appetite. It has more than 500 players.
“My disadvantage, coaching in a public school,” Greenlea said, “is I’m more likely to get a kid who is playing football for the first time in ninth grade and doesn’t have the fundamentals.”
Fifty- and 25-year reunions brought players from the 1964 and 1989 Blue-Gold games back to Delaware Stadium for pregame festivities.
Former Conrad teammates Ernie Anderson, Harry Crystal and Warren “Buzz” Adkins especially relished the occasion as they had not seen each other since that 1964 game, in which they played for the Gold in a 20-0 loss to the Blue.
Crystal, who now lives in Rehoboth Beach, and Adkins, a Bethany Beach resident, hadn’t been to the game since. Anderson, who lives a mile from Delaware Stadium in Newark, had seen younger brothers Anthony and Gary play in the game.
“It’s great to see some of the people we played with and I hadn’t seen Harvey Folk from Newark, who was my roommate,” Crystal, a quarterback, said. “This is something these kids will never forget. That’s how it is for us. We can stand here and talk about the game like it was yesterday.”
What they remembered was Blue halfback Ralph Donofrio, from Archmere, running roughshod over them en route to being named game MVP.
“I had a heck of a team,” Donofrio said.
It’s been an exciting two months for Anderson, who was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame last month in recognition of his athletic exploits at Conrad and Delaware State and subsequent coaching career at Delcastle High, which he guided to numerous state track and field titles.
“Ernie was ahead of his time as a player,” Crystal said of the speedy running back. “You’d see him and then you wouldn’t see him.”
The pregame reunion of Blue-Gold game participants with their intellectually disabled “buddies” in the “Hand-in-Hand” program is annually the most poignant portion of the night, bringing tears to the eyes of many.
DFRC executive director Tony Glenn, whose association with Blue-Gold extends back 40 years, watched with the usual amount of pride and joy from the sidelines Saturday.
“Here it is. This is what it’s all about,” Glenn said. “This is life. This teaches all of mankind why we’re in the world.”
Tatnall’s Tyler Taschner had a 55-yard punt out of his end zone late in the second quarter for the Blue. … Middletown noseguard Jacob Bricker had a fourth-and-2 stop for the Gold to thwart a first-quarter Blue series. … Greenlea on Blue and Delaware Military Academy wide receiver Tyler Lewis: “He’s a sleeper. He’s 6-foot-3 and he catches everything. He’s a kid you don’t even hear about but he’s a good football player.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com.