For Oxford and Masuk, football soothes aching hearts [Saturday wrap]

Scenes from the Oxford at Immaculate football game in Danbury on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. Photo: Jason Rearick / The News-Times

Bucky Gumbrewicz, wearing the No. 69 jersey of former teammate Brandon Giordano, and Brennen Diaz march to the pregame coin toss vs. Immaculate on Saturday. Photo Jason Rearick / News-Times

These are just games, right? We love them. We care about them. We enjoy them. For the players, the games build character and cultivate relationships. They bring communities together.

In context, sports are an important and wonderful part of of our lives. Both as a player, then as a spectator.

But they are just games, right?

Life often intrudes on our playgrounds, harshly sometimes. The people we come to love as our friends and family through sports can get hurt, or worse, be taken away.

There are thousands of young men playing football in Connecticut; thousands of lives from thousands of families. We can hope, but we will never get through a season without a tragedy affecting our communities on some level.

Tragedy struck in Oxford last spring, when sophomore Brandon Giordano was killed at the end of a high-speed chase when the convertible in which he was a passenger flipped over and slammed into a building.

Months later, the emotional wounds still fresh, the Oxford football team did what thousands of mourning teams have done before them: The Wolverines honored their fallen teammate by dedicating their season to his memory.

The difference? This was personal. This was their pain. So, this was their recovery.

And they channeled it in a 35-0 victory over Immaculate Saturday afternoon.

The team’s linemen will each take turns wearing Giordano’s No. 69 this year. Bucky Gumbrewicz had the honor Saturday.

Afterward, the team presented Giordano’s mother, Angela Borelli, with the game ball.

“We wanted to win this game for her and present her with the game ball, which we just did. That’s what today was all about,” Oxford coach Joe Stochmal said. “Our kids played for Brandon, for his mom and his family. We’ve stuck together through it. We’ve been through some hard times, but the kids have persevered. It showed today on the field.”

These are just games, but they do matter.

For Oxford, football was small, but crucial, salve. It gave the players, coaches and their families some joy out of heartache. It helped them celebrate their friend and teammates life taken too soon.

It wasn’t the first time tragedy’s icy grasp touched a football team. It wasn’t the last.

On Friday afternoon, Masuk junior receiver Russell Lilly lost his father, Norman, to cancer.

Just a few hours later, Russell ran out of the Masuk field house and onto Benedict Field with his teammates to face Pomperaug.

Lilly, Thomas Milone’s backup, played special teams and joined the offense when Milone’s five-touchdown night was over.

“The fans were all chanting his name when he was out there,” Murphy said.

Masuk won 47-10. For his heart and his courage, Masuk football coach John Murphy handed Lilly, a backup who also plays on the junior varsity team, the game ball. “First time I did that for anybody,” Murphy said.

This is how Lilly summed up his emotional day and exhilarating night:

In sorrow, we typically seek comfort from company. For an athlete, you can’t do much better than what Lilly did: falling into the arms of his teammates, mentors and friends.

“Like I told my team, it was the proudest moment I’ve had. For him to choose to come here, on a day like today, to be with his team and his coaches, that moved me,” Murphy said. “My pregame speech wasn’t fire and brimstone, it was telling them how much this thing means to people that he would come here on a day like today.”

These are not just games.

In life and love, in death and sorrow, they do mean so much more.


Now, back to the games:

What can we tell you about the final games of Week 1?

Shaquan Howsie made a successful return to the field in Trinity Catholic’s 28-10 victory over Westhill and new coach Frank Marcucio. …Harding gave Stamford fits early, but the Black Knights eventually won 27-8. …Weston quarterback Tyler Hassett had a big day in a 46-18 win over Notre Dame-Fairfield and new coach Dawon Dicks. …Abbott Tech is 1-0 for the first time in program history. …Bullard Havens’ John Shannon ran wild in a 42-8 victory over Putnam/Tourtellotte/Ellis Tech. …Derby utterly crushed St. Paul 55-26 in a shootout that wasn’t a shootout. …And Brookfield turned to its new stars to beat back a serious challenge from clearly improved Stratford.

Saturday’s links below. Our ‘That’s a Wrap’ feature, the state polls and other goodies will be on the blog Monday night.

Sean Patrick Bowley