NEWARK — For 11 weeks last fall, Darren DiRenzo battled against some big dudes as a member of Archmere Academy’s football team. The Auks won nine of those games, falling in the first round of the Division II state tournament.
But the recent graduate’s fondest high school football memories may have been made over the course of a few months after the season. DiRenzo was a participant in the 64th annual Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game and all of the activities that led up to the game June 21 at Delaware Stadium. That includes the buddy program, in which players and other school representatives interact with young people through the Delaware Foundation for Reaching Citizens with Intellectual disAbilities.
DiRenzo was buddies with Matthew Lavelle. Matthew worked with DiRenzo, his Archmere teammate Mitch Moyer and Auks ambassador Maggie Udovich. The students met Matthew in December.
“Being part of the buddy program was something truly special to me,” DiRenzo said. “It opened up more perspective on how to cherish life and how to live every moment to the fullest. Obviously, playing in the Blue-Gold game was amazing, but playing for your buddy and hearing him cheer you on during the game is something that touched my heart. I know deep down that Matthew would do anything to put that helmet on and play the game just once.”
DiRenzo said Matthew, who has Down syndrome, taught him to always smile and laugh, something he will carry with him the rest of his life.
He also liked creating friendships with students from different schools, both Blue and Gold team participants. The message they heard during the week of camp leading up to the game was that they were “playing for something bigger than yourself.” In addition to Matthew, DiRenzo had a few other people on his mind. Two were friends from Archmere: Anthony Penna and Mark Dombrowski, both of whom died during DiRenzo’s junior year. The other was recent Woodbridge High School graduate Troy Haynes, who was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer and could not play. Haynes was in everyone’s mind at the game; his Blue Raiders teammates each wore his No. 4 jersey for a quarter during the contest.
Woodbridge coach Jed Bell, who led the Gold team, addressed the players at the beginning of camp and told the players that the game was about more than football and that Haynes was still fighting.
“I wanted to do more, so I decided to play for Troy. I don’t know the man at all, but what I do know is that he would do anything to play in that Gold jersey. I know it is a little thing, but looking at my right wrist with FL4 (Fight Like 4) on it, it motivated me to give 110 percent for him,” he said.
DiRenzo will be suiting up for Catholic University this fall, and he is grateful for the Blue-Gold football experience as well. He said it made him feel like his hard work had paid off.
“Playing with and against an all-star lineup gave me a sense of what football will be like next year,” he said.
Aside from Moyer and Udovich, the other participants from Catholic high schools were:
Players: Ray Jones, Thomas Zatalava and Jaegar Wesley, St. Elizabeth; Jelani Bryant and Joey Cartwright, Saint Mark’s; and Sean Regan, Logan Bushweller, Colin Fowler and Brendan Pacheco, Salesianum.
Cheerleaders: Alana Boyd and Annmarie Pepeta, Saint Mark’s; and Aimee Cathers, Padua.
Band: Helena Grace and Brianna Ross, Padua; and Keo Pangan, Salesianum.
Junior ambassadors: Jordan Fischer, Sophia Sherwin and Sonia Srikanth, Padua; Cheyenne McGowan and McKenna Murphy, Saint Mark’s; and Kylee Mulrooney, Tyler Tillinghast and Jazmine Winters, St. Elizabeth.
Senior ambassadors: Conner Bartholomew, Jamil Comeger, Samantha Ghaul, Ryan Hodlofski and Jianna Tsaganos, Archmere; Isabel Casey, Shea Sweeney and Ryan Woodham, St. Elizabeth; Anna Cleary, Madison Lennon and Allison Stuebing, Padua; and Kacey Tramont and Elena Ziccarelli, Saint Mark’s.