Blue-Gold football memories last a lifetime

MILFORD — Rivalries aren’t what they used to be in many sports.

Travel teams, AAU and the like give kids at an early age the opportunity to play on the same roster with an athlete from the next town over.

Football, however, has mainly stayed local, even down at the Pop Warner level. When a football player moves up to the middle school and prep teams, it’s likely that most of his or her teammates are all from the same area and have been since youth.

Lake grads and Gold teammates John Flamer and D.J. Cornish converse during an intrasquad scrimmage. (The Journal/Jeff Mitchell)

Lake grads and Gold teammates John Flamer and D.J. Cornish converse during an intrasquad scrimmage. (The Journal/Jeff Mitchell)

There, on the gridiron, rivalries remain strong. Which makes the annual DFRC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game and the week leading up the event unique.

The annual contest, a fundraiser for the Delaware Foundation Reaching Children with intellectual disABILITIES, pits graduated seniors from the state’s high schools against each other on the gridiron. This year the Blue team, which is most of the upstate high schools, defeated the Gold (Henlopen Conference, Christina, Appoquinimink and St. Georges school districts) 8-6.

“When you play against somebody, you think about them one way but when they’re on your team it’s like they’re a whole different person,” said Lake Forest’s Brian Thomson during last week’s Gold team intrasquad scrimmage at Milford High. “You judge them, thinking this and that but then when you get to meet them it’s like ‘he’s a good guy, he could be my friend.’ It’s a good experience, you get to meet rivals that become new friends.”

“All these players are from different schools and we didn’t like each other when we were on the field,” added Sussex Central’s Amontay Clanton. “But they’re kinda cool once you get to know them.”

And you get to play organized football for one last time as a high school student, albeit half a year after last season’s playoffs ended.

Getting back on the field a final time time representing Lake Forest was a good feeling, D.J. Cornish and John Flamer said.

“Everything, just being out here playing the game you love, playing with teammates and friends from other teams and becoming a family,” said Cornish, who signed with Shepard University in West Virginia. “It’s been great.”

“It feels good to be able to play with the top people in the state,” added Flamer. “It’s a privilege to be here and I’m very blessed.”

For Milford’s Michael Tkach, the experience was special in multiple ways. Not only was the graduated Buccaneers senior was able to get back out on the football field after an injury cut short his regular season, he also got to play a final time under his father, former Milford High head coach Mike Tkach, who was selected to lead the Gold squad this year.

“It’s awesome, I’m out here playing for my dad one last time and it’s nice to be on the field again considering my season got cut short,” the younger Tkach said. “This is a dream come true and it’s a great opportunity to play against the best of the best. And it’s an honor to represent Milford.”

Buddies rush the field to be with the Gold all-stars during last weekend's game at Delaware Stadium. (Special to The Journal/Gary Emeigh)

Buddies rush the field to be with the Gold all-stars during last weekend’s game at Delaware Stadium. (Special to The Journal/Gary Emeigh)

While playing in the game with former rivals is a great experience, one that tops even that is the Hand in Hand program participated in by all Blue-Gold all-stars. The program, as it has for four decades, pairs one or more seniors with a “buddy,” who is between the ages of 4-18 and has a cognitive disability.

Friendships made between buddies and participants create memories that last a lifetime for both parties.

“I got a chance to hang out with him in school, he’s a cool kid,” said Milford’s Rafiq Henry. “To know that you’re somebody’s hero, it’s something really special. It makes you want to do better for them.”

“To have fun with your buddies, get to know that person one on one… it’s awesome,” Flamer added.

Now that the 60th DFRC Annual Blue-Gold Football All-Star Game is in the books, participants will move onto the next chapter of their respective lives.

But, they will likely always remember what it was like to participate in the event.

“It’s a prestigious honor, a testament to our character on the field and off the field as well,” Sussex Central’s J.D. Messeck said. “It says a lot about who we are as people.”

“For my school to pick me to play in the Blue-Gold game,” Clanton said. “It’s an honor.”

One that all the all-stars will have the rest of their lives.

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