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Prep talk / All I want for Christmas is St. Joe's-OP

Dear Santa,

On behalf of Western New York high school football fans, please find a way to give high school football followers some public-Catholic nonleague games in future seasons.

Could you just imagine the joy on the faces of players and fans if they could unwrap a St. Joe's-Orchard Park showdown?

You've even got a helper here. Just call St. Mary's of Lancaster and ask for Athletics Director Kevin Kelleher. He started the Ad Pro Team Sports Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge in basketball three years ago. A similar event in baseball was launched last spring.

At those events, Section VI and Monsignor Martin schools actually play each other! Actually, great nonleague games happen in all sports -- except football. Nobody gets caught up in petty grudges -- except football. And the great, healthy competition between public and Catholic schools, often pitting the best against the best, help Western New York high school sports be as good as they can be. Except, of course, in football.

Kelleher is daring to dream that there can be a Monsignor Martin Association-Section VI Challenge in football. And he's willing to work on it. He's even thrown out a date so far enough ahead -- 2008 -- that will allow enough time to straighten out some serious backwards thinking.

The Catholic schools would love to play Section VI schools in football. Fans and alumni of all schools would love it. And the players -- the ones who this whole high school athletics thing is supposed to be about, remember? -- they just want to play. So what stops it? Section VI schools refuse to schedule the games.

Now, just to clarify who should get coal in their stocking: Usually when we call for nonleague football games between Section VI and the Monsignor Martin Association, we write that Section VI coaches should drop their grudge against Catholic schools for the good of Western New York football.

However, I've been told that some public school coaches would very much like to play Catholic schools, but that their own athletic directors, principals or even superintendents are against it.

So, in the interest of being fair to those who make it unfair for their student-athletes and this area's high school football fans, it's time for all Section VI coaches and administrators to drop their grudge against Catholic schools and play some nonleague games.

Imagine a Thursday doubleheader, a Friday doubleheader and a Saturday tripleheader at a local college. St. Joe's and St. Francis against Orchard Park, Lancaster or North Tonawanda. Cardinal O'Hara against Tonawanda. Bishop Timon-St. Jude against Lackawanna. Great matchups. Big crowds. A portion of the proceeds going back to participating schools.

Maybe a whole weekend is asking too much, especially since the arithmetic of structuring the Section VI schedule is so difficult, with just eight weeks to work with and rivalry games to account for. But a few games are possible if schools really want it to happen.

So Santa, give Kevin a call. He really thinks he can do it. Some people probably think it would be a miracle.

But it is Christmas, isn't it?

***

Around the halls

By the way, Santa, please fill up the stockings of those coaches and athletics directors who embrace the spirit of giving. Those are the ADs who help us cover their teams by sending us their rosters and schedules, and the coaches who have their information ready when they call -- promptly -- after their games.

Last Saturday's 19th annual Western New York High School Football Awards Banquet was, as always, a great event.

Highlights included St. Joe's senior lineman Jeff Papia starting the banquet by singing the national anthem a cappella with teammate and all-academic pick Ryan Campagna, then finishing it by accepting the prestigious National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete Award to a standing ovation of the more than 500; St. Joe's quarterback Naaman Roosevelt and Randolph coach Pat Slater accepting special awards from banquet organizer Dick Gallagher; and the ceremonial passing of the torch, featuring Roosevelt and fellow seniors Ilio DiPaolo of St. Francis and Mike Faracca of Williamsville East posing with a 1996 Olympic torch they handed off to juniors Sergio Smith of McKinley, Andy Schettine of Silver Creek and Mike Perillo of Iroquois.

Hoops' Happy New Year: The Monsignor Martin Association begins its 2006 league schedule Jan. 3 while the Yale Cup tips off Jan. 4. Also on Jan. 4 is one of the biggest matchups of the regular season: St. Joe's against Niagara Falls at 7:30 p.m. at Niagara University. That's right, football coaches, a Section VI team against a Catholic school!

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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