August 20th, 2016

DeSales unveils jewel on Kenwood

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer


DeSales unveils jewel on Kenwood
Justin Noe (No. 59 in white) catches the Fairdale running back in the backfield; photo and cover by Mark Sims

During the captains’ handshake and right before the coin toss of the Fairdale-DeSales game a butterfly fluttered by the group of players, coaches and officials. A butterfly. You just don’t see that on a football field.

DeSales opened its sparkling new Paul B. Cox Stadium with plenty of fanfare and a butterfly to boot.

There was a giant football-shaped balloon on the grounds; hundreds of fans tailgating in a lot adjacent to the school; several television stations marking the event and much, much more.

Coach Harold Davis was kind enough to let me follow him and the team from its 3:30 p.m. Mass through all of the pre-game meetings to the very end of the game.

There were plenty of butterflies at 3:20 p.m. as the team began gathering near the chapel. Just before entering the chapel coach Davis (class of 1982) got to see his head coach Ron Madrick, defensive coordinator Don Hettich and his freshman coach Steve Blanton.

Davis mentioned to the coaches that he felt like he did before every game he played saying, “Feel like I want to throw up.” But there were hugs all around for the men who molded the tough, undersized cornerback on those great Colts’ teams of 1980 and 1981.

3:30 p.m.: Mass begins with Father Phillip Erikson (class of 1986) celebrating. In his homily he spoke of the magnificent collection of chalices one can see in the Vatican museum. He explained how incredibly ornate so many were and that some were covered in precious stones.

But the one that struck him as most beautiful was a chalice made at Auschwitz from shards of wood removed from bunk beds and delicately pieced together by Catholics knowing full well they were destined for an unspeakable demise. He talked about the passion and faith those men possessed in the face of certain death. And then he said, “It’s not the stadium that makes you great; it’s the fire inside us all that makes us great.”

4:00 p.m.: Legendary Colts coach Madrick addresses the team following Mass. He discussed the vision he had for DeSales in 1976 and the fellowship he shared with all of his teams in that very chapel before every game.

“What makes this place beautiful and special is the people,” Madrick said. “There is a bond among DeSales students and athletes that accelerates through the community with an ‘I can’ mentality. We share the same values, experiences and challenges that prior teams had. It is the brotherhood of DeSales.”

At the end of his talk, Madrick reflected on an upcoming trip to his hometown of Chicago, Ill. He and his old teammates from Mt. Carmel high school are getting together next week at Soldier Field to honor their 1960 city championship team.

“We’re having our 56th reunion of our championship team,” he said with emotion welling up in his voice. “Why is that a big event? Because a lot of my buddies won’t make it, they’ve passed, and I’ll never see them again. So I want to go there and so those guys who are with us. God Bless.”

4:10 p.m. – Pre-game meal in the cafeteria. Davis greets more friends and well-wishers as he makes his way to the coach’s room to change for a television interview.

4:30 p.m. – Davis makes a live appearance with a local television station. While he’d rather have been discussing the game plan with his coaches, he obliges on the blazing hot field.

4:55 p.m. – Position meetings take place in the cafeteria. The offensive line is being told, “Re-set the line of scrimmage. Blow them off the ball every play.”

Davis has the safeties and rovers and reminds them, “Watch the fakes off the dive; read your keys and fly your tails to the ball. Be ready.”

5:10 p.m. – The team takes the field for a walk-through. The tailgaters are out in full force and the balloonists are getting the big football ready to light up.

A defensive coach tells his group, “Assignment; alignment; execution. That’s what you need to check every play.”

Davis then tells the group: “This is all mental, guys. The game is bigger than all of this. It’s about this team and this game. Stay focused.”

5:20 p.m. – The players transition to the locker room. The gates are locked and the fans are itching to get inside. Parking lot is packed and the revelry is everywhere you look.

5:25 p.m. – In the coaches’ office, 20 coaches/volunteers are assembled. It’s silent. And at 5:32 p.m. a local news show features an interview with coach Davis, who immediately tells his assistant with the TV remote to, “Turn that off!”

5:55 p.m. – Special teams go through their walk through followed by skill position players, then both lines.

6:25 p.m. – Team goes through its stretching. Davis, now on his 45th hug—yes, I counted—greets DeSales super-fan Jim Breen (class of 1972) who is confined to a wheelchair. Touching moment.

6:27 p.m. – Bigger touching moment as Davis spies his daughter Allyson. He walks quickly across the field, summons his son Joe (who is a junior and out for the season with an injury) and heads directly to Allyson and his other daughter Sarah. He had no idea Allyson was coming to the game. She lives and works in Los Angeles and booked the trip only letting her sister Sarah know about it. 

“That brought tears to my eyes,” said the stoic coach.

“Oh my gosh, I couldn’t miss the first ever home game,” Allyson said. “I booked the flight a month ago and it just so happened that I had time off. I talked with my grandparents the other day on the phone and told them, ‘I wish I could be there,’ so they had no idea.”

It was just another great moment, one of dozens, on this opening night.

6:53 p.m. – Back in the coaches’ office after the brief walk from the field, Davis deadpanned, “Well, that was different,” referencing walking off the field and into their own locker room.

6:57 p.m. – Davis gathers the players for a brief talk. He tells them: “You should be excited. You’re representing everyone who ever played at DeSales; your family, your parents. You talk to your parents and they’ll tell you that DeSales had a huge rivalry with Fairdale and they want to ruin your night. It’s all mental guys.”

7:10 p.m. – As the players race through the Colts inflatable and onto the field, fans are chanting, “This is OUR house.” Indeed, and finally.

7:15 p.m. - DeSales President Doug Strothman invoked the words of St. Francis DeSales: “Be who you are. And be that well,” he said. Looks like the DeSales community knows exactly who it is and they do that very well.

7:18 p.m. - Paul B. Cox (class of 1984), the namesake for the stadium, addressed the crowd and talked about all the good that DeSales had done for him. “Good things come to those who wait,” he said. “The time is now; right here, on Kenwood Drive in the heart of the South End.”

7:21 p.m. - Archbishop Kurtz delivered the opening prayer to the 4,200 fans in attendance. At one point he says, “Allow me to say, Go Colts!” and a huge cheer went up from the crowd.

7:24 p.m. – Roger Higdon, a volunteer assistant with two sons at DeSales, sings the national anthem. Coincidentally, Higdon graduated from Fairdale. He got a friendly text from the Fairdale principal that simply said, “You’re a Fairdale grad, not a DeSales dad.”

7:27 p.m. – Captains called to midfield for the coin toss and that buzz-by from the singular butterfly.

7:32 p.m. –The opening kickoff couldn’t have been scripted any better. Austin Tharp’s pooch kick surprised the Fairdale receiving team and Mitch Sirohman quickly pounced on the muffed kick.

7:40 p.m. – Sirohman hauls in a five-yard out from quarterback Brayden Recktenwald for the stadium’s first score.

7:49 p.m. – DeSales sophomore kicker Noah Herbert booted a 27-yard field goal to give the Colts a 10- lead.

8:12 p.m. – Another touchdown extends the lead to 23-0 and essentially sealed the victory.

10:00 p.m. – Lights out, literally. The lights all extinguished in the middle of the fourth quarter precisely at 10:00 p.m. Seems like that’s when they were programmed to turn off by the company that installed them. It took 18 minutes to get them all back on and the game resumed. It ended at 10:29 p.m. with DeSales blanking Fairdale 30-0.

10:50 p.m. – For at least the 50th time, Davis is greeted by a hug. This time it’s his former teammate and fellow class of ’82 alum Mike Bowman. “Big No. 46,” as Davis called him. “This is what DeSales is all about. These guys, these memories.”

11:00 p.m. – Finally, Davis makes his way to the locker room making sure not to step on the bricks that make up “Miles Plaza” in honor of David H. (class of ’68) and Linda A. Miles (Holy Rosary Academy, ’69).

“What comes to mind are the coaches who instilled these values in all of us,” Davis said. “It’s everybody. It’s not just our 2013 and 2014 championship teams. For me, it’s coach Madrick, coach Hettich, coach Blanton and everyone who’s played here. That’s hallowed ground out there and a very special place.

“It belongs to everyone who has put on a DeSales uniform,” he continued. “There were people everywhere: in the stands, standing around the fences, in the parking lot and I don’t even know if they paid but it looked like a lot of fun. Everyone should feel a part of it.”

So yes, butterflies were everywhere, even in the lights. But that one butterfly at midfield was just perfect in its timing.

Much like that butterfly morphed from a caterpillar, DeSales, in its 60 year history, has transformed its campus, its community. And Paul B. Cox Stadium is now in full flight. 

 

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