NEWARK – Years from now, three recent high school graduates who played in the DFRC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game may not remember the final score, but they said they will never forget the experience leading up to the annual contest and the bonds they forged during the week leading up to the game on June 23.
For the record, the Gold team – representing the schools in the southern part of the state – captured a 24-14 win over the Blue on a pleasant evening at Delaware Stadium. It was the 63rd annual matchup, with the proceeds benefiting Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with intellectual disabilities.
The game features most of the best high school seniors in the state, along with cheerleaders, a band and a group of student ambassadors. A central feature surrounding the game is the Hand-in-Hand program, where the students are matched up with “buddies” for the week. That provided the most and best memories.
“It was an absolute gift,” recent Salesianum graduate Michael DiNardo said. “I felt privileged to even be a part of this. You kind of realize that you’re part of something special. It’s not about you.”
DiNardo said he was following in the footsteps of his uncles who played in previous Blue-Gold games, and his father, Bill. The older DiNardo, who coaches Salesianum, has coached in the all-star game, and his son had been a water boy in the past. He appreciated the opportunity to play.
“I took everything out of this as a gift. We didn’t come out on top, but everybody says you don’t remember that. You remember the dorms, I’ll remember hanging out, I’ll remember movie night last night. It was great,” said DiNardo, who will attend the University of Delaware.
The other players from Catholic schools were Casey Spink and Zach Gwynn, also from Salesianum; Casey Rock and Matt Shields of St. Elizabeth; Joe DiGregorio of Archmere; and St. Mark’s Matt Tynes. Tynes, who will play at Yale in the fall, was on the roster but did not play.
For Rock, the opportunity to suit up for Blue-Gold was the culmination of months of work since last fall. The Vikings’ starting quarterback tore the anterior cruciate ligament early last season, and he thought he would spend the game as a manager.
Rock played on defense and special teams, but that was just fine with him. Just getting one more high school football game was a bonus.
“I did some stuff with my orthopedic surgeon, I was training real hard, and he said, ‘You know what, go out there and give it one last shot.’ I couldn’t ask for anything more. This game’s so much bigger than me and bigger than my knee,” said Rock, who also will attend Delaware.
Rock said he spent the week thinking about his uncles who played in the game, other family members, his youth team, and his buddy, Matthew, who inspired him to work so he would be eligible to play.
“People like that help me get back to where I was,” he said. “To walk off this field one more time, this is my last game playing football, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
DiGregorio, who is headed to the University of South Carolina, has known his buddy, Matthew Lavelle, for a few years. Matthew’s sister attended Archmere, and he has hung out with the former Auks quarterback.
The week at UD exceeded what DiGregorio thought it would be.
“It’s been a great experience. It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was really just crossing my fingers that I’d get picked for Blue-Gold, and this has just been a great week. I just feel really honored to be part of this, strap it up and throw it around one last time.”
DiGregorio split quarterbacking duties, primarily with Gwynn. DiGregorio led the Blue’s most impressive drive of the evening in the second quarter, setting his team up with a first-and-goal at the Gold 2-yard line on a scramble. His helmet was knocked off, so he was forced to watch the next play from the sideline. Gwynn came on and scored on a keeper for the Blue’s first touchdown of the game. DiGregorio did return to throw for a two-point conversion.
That was nice, but it wasn’t the reason why DiGregorio enjoyed the week so much.
“It was really awesome having guys who were really serious about football, really committed to the team. At the end of the day, everyone is on this team because they’re really good guys. You could be the best player in the world, but it’s about your character,” he said.
The Blue team wanted to win, he continued, but it was more about “creating a brotherhood and helping the buddies.”