By SEAN BARRON
If you walked the halls of Ursuline High School in Youngstown on Thursday, the higher-than-usual green quotient probably caught your eye. And it had nothing to do with students’ decision to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a little early this year.
Instead, it was a celebration of a far different sort. Many excited students, teachers and school officials wore clothing, lapels and other items bearing the colors of the Ursuline Fighting Irish football team on the eve of its appearance in today’s Division V state title game.
Hundreds of those students and staff filled the auditorium for a 45-minute afternoon pep rally to honor and give a positive send-off to the 10-3 Fighting Irish as they prepare to take on the Coldwater Cavaliers (13-1) for Ursuline’s second consecutive state championship. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. today at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
One of the students planning to be at the game is sophomore Cheryl Vaughn, who’s gone to several Ursuline home games this year. The title game, overall camaraderie and being with friends are what Cheryl is looking forward to the most, she explained.
“It’s really fun. This school probably has the best spirit of any school I’ve been to,” Cheryl said, adding that she’s attended more than 10.
It was easy to see the students already were pumped up as they entered for the rally, which got under way with a portion of the marching band playing as the school’s cheerleading squad performed. Leading the charge were seniors Louis Isabella and Steven Bernard.
Like something out of an improvisation class, Bernard and Isabella assigned portions of a school chant to each grade, with sophomores picking up where the freshman last left off, for example. It wasn’t long, however, before those in grades nine through 12 fell into unified cheers for their beloved team.
Audience members cheered several more times as they watched a five-minute video showing interviews and highlights of the Dec. 1, 2000, Division IV state title game between Ursuline and Coldwater at Fawcett. The Fighting Irish won 49-37.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to do it again,” Bernard told the exuberant crowd. “We’re going to beat Coldwater at Fawcett Stadium!”
Also getting everyone fired up was a two-person skit that played on comedian David Letterman’s Top 10 list, in which both students ticked off in descending order the 10 reasons their team will come home victorious.
Offering remarks was head coach Dan Reardon, who praised his players for their performances despite having started the season 1-2. The team continued to improve and “here we are going to state,” he said.
Reardon also touted several players’ individual accomplishments before the event ended with a prayer and recitation of the school’s alma mater.
If you go
What: Division V state football championship
Who: Ursuline (10-3) vs. Coldwater (13-1)
When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Fawcett Stadium, Canton.
By JON MOFFETT
Vindicator Staff Writer
If the Cardinal Mooney football team needed any inspiration for its state championship game today, all it needed to do was look around. Screaming student sections, championship banners and a guest speaker all were visible reminders of Mooney’s rich athletic tradition at a pep rally Thursday afternoon.
The Youngstown team will play Columbus DeSales at 11 a.m. today for the Division III state championship.
“I am fully aware of the task at hand tomorrow,” guest speaker Joe Cassese told those at the rally. “And you will decide which banner [state champion or runner-up] will represent the football team of 2009.”
Cassese, a 1997 Mooney graduate who, along with his father Carmen, owns and manages Cassese’s MVR restaurant in Youngstown, urged the team to play their hardest and capture a state title because “no one remembers who comes in second.”
Cassese also told the players to rely on one another for support.
To prove his point, Cassese then introduced a surprise guest speaker — Kyle McCarthy, a former Mooney and current University of Notre Dame football player.
McCarthy, a senior safety for the Fighting Irish, was a part of the 2004 state champion Mooney team. After spending time shaking hands and greeting the team, he addressed the crowd and said the team was one step away from a dream come true.
“Fifteen weeks ago these men embarked on a journey they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.
McCarthy said Mooney football is about “family, tradition and a commitment to excellence” and encouraged the team to “leave everything on the field” and “play your hearts out” in today’s game.
Mooney’s opponent is no stranger and won’t take the team lightly. The Cardinals defeated DeSales 21-14 in the second week of the season. But McCarthy cautioned the team about second chances and not to overlook the Stallions.
McCarthy said while DeSales may have a second shot at Mooney, “there are no guarantees” the Cardinals will make another title game and to make this year’s season count and be part of the rich football history at the school.
The pep rally adjourned with the students, faculty and staff with arms around one another, swaying as they sung the school’s alma mater.
But before he walked away to a standing ovation, McCarthy had one more piece of advice for the team.
“Oh, and boys,” he said, showing the team his fist adorned with a championship ring, “get yourselves one of these.”
If you go
What: Division III state football championship
Who: Mooney (14-0) vs. Columbus DeSales (11-3)
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, Massillon.