North Haven community ensures ‘Spring Brawl’ charity football game will continue

NORTH HAVEN — North Haven High School’s annual spring football game has become so big in town that the school’s longtime football coach, Tony Sagnella, says everyone in town knows it by name. : The Spring Brawl.

It wasn’t because of a fanatical devotion to getting a glimpse of the next generation of North Haven football players, but because his mission was to provide local families with financial support for children with life-changing illnesses. life. The Spring Brawl has raised over $15,000 per year.

“It was just a unique name we came up with when we first made this game 20 years ago,” Sagnella said. “It’s amazing now people know the name because of the charity campaign and what it stands for.”

But when CIAC eliminated spring football for all of its member schools two years ago, North Haven risked losing the long-awaited event for good.

Yet Sagnella and the community of North Haven collectively refused to let that happen. He and athletic director Steve Blumenthal met with the CIAC to find a way for the Spring Brawl to continue this year without violating off-season training regulations.

The solution was for North Haven High School to contract the event to North Haven Youth Football, which handles everything from insurance to equipment and other costs, and organized the game around a three-day football clinic. preceding the game.

The 18th edition of the Spring Brawl will therefore be well and truly played. This year it will benefit Nate Gagné, a 3-year-old resident with cystic fibrosis, a condition in which the lungs are unable to clean themselves of mucus, leading to severe breathing difficulties. Nate Gagne’s father, Scott, is a former football and baseball player from North Haven who continues to live in town with his wife, Laura.

All proceeds from the event will go to the family to help offset Nate’s medical bills.

“It has been an honor for us to take on this event, which has meant so much to our community over the past few years,” said Sal Demaio, NHYF president who played for Sagnella in North Branford and has two sons in the North Haven program.

“It has become so much more important than football in the city. It’s something all of our kids look forward to, not because it’s a football game, but because of what they’re doing to help a great family and a great kid in town.

The game will be played Friday night at 6 p.m. on the grass next to Vanacore Field, which is unavailable due to impending construction. Although it is played on the North Haven campus, per CIAC regulations, North Haven High School cannot be involved.

None of the North Haven coaches, including Sagnella, will be involved in game management. “I will be returning burgers to the snack bar,” Sagnella said. Blumenthal, who previously had to organize the logistics of the event, will be present but only as a spectator this time.

Both Blumenthal and Sagnella said they heard complaints from strangers despite their assurances that it was not a school-run spring game designed to bend the rules for the benefit of the football program.

“Any city can do it,” Blumenthal said. “We don’t do anything special. We just needed to communicate with CIAC to make sure we were dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘T’s.

“The community is doing this for a child in need. We are fortunate that North Haven Youth Football was willing to step in and take on such an enormous task.

Demaio admitted he was nervous about taking on the logistics. But those fears were allayed when North Haven players fanned out across town, securing donations from at least 65 sponsors.

The costs of organizing the event were also kept to a minimum, as businesses in the city were eager to donate their equipment or services, Demaio said. North Haven parents and the football booster club also volunteered their money and time.

Demaio said he had worked with the city to provide police officers to manage traffic and that the North Haven Fire Department – a mainstay at regular NHHS football games – would provide paramedics.

Because of that, Demaio said, the event will likely net the Gagne family between $18,000 and $20,000.

“Once people knew what it was for, they just donated,” Demaio said. “We received help from the city. The whole community really came together for this.

North Haven football underclasses will play in the game. But Demaio said they were required to register with NHYF for insurance purposes. According to Sagnella, the game itself will feature light tackles and a quick whistle.

As in previous years, the outgoing seniors split into two teams, drafted their underclassmen teammates and will call the games. Rich Brannigan, a former North Haven parks superintendent who now works with the American Red Cross, and Dave Mikos, a former NHYF commissioner and business owner, are the team’s honorary coaches.

“It will be amazing for the community and the team to come together and do something special for the Gagne family,” said North Haven senior Sebastian DeRubeis. “There is nothing like it. Nobody does anything like that around here. It’s really special.

[email protected]; @SPBowley

About Betty J. Snyder

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