NORTH HAVEN >> With spring practice in full swing, preparing for another season on the gridiron is a priority at North Haven, especially coming off a year when the Indians advanced to their first state championship game.
But North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella hopes to teach his players other valuable lessons.
In recent years, proceeds from the Indians’ annual Spring Brawl game have benefited an individual or charitable organization within the North Haven community. This year, the team will help raise money to build a new playground at the Green Acres elementary school.
“It really is, I think, a key to helping our team develop some leadership and come together,” Sagnella said. “There’s bigger causes in this world than playing in a football game. I’m glad to see our guys have a chance to do this. I don’t want to see it go away. It’s too valuable of a learning tool to see it go away.”
The Spring Brawl will take place on June 9 at 6 p.m. at Vancore Field. The Maroon team will be led special guest coach Carolyn Vanacore, the widow of former coach Mike Vanacore, for whom the football field is named. The White team will be led by Kevin Gilbride, who coached in the NFL and is a North Haven alum.
The incoming seniors, including captains Thomas Dodge, Kyle Melillo, Jack Steinman and Max Sullivan, handle all the leg work for the event, including publicity and securing sponsors. The outgoing seniors will serve as coaches during the game.
“It’s a great event, it brings the whole town together,” Dodge said. “We all have fun playing against each other. It’s a great cause, and it raises a lot of money for a great cause every year.”
In past years, the event has raised between $8,000 and $13,000, Sagnella said.
“We don’t have a specific goal yet,” Steinman said. “The football program has been growing the last couple of years, so I know more people are going to be interested in it. Hopefully we can make more money than we did in the past. We’re just trying to help out as much as we possibly can for them.”
With Sagnella’s help, the incoming seniors decided on the Green Acres project, whose current playground is outdated, unsafe, and has non-functioning equipment, according to a press release sent out by the North Haven football program. The new playground is expected to be handicap accessible to accommodate the needs of the Green Acres’ student body.
“We heard about it, looked into it, and we found out that they really needed a new one,” Melillo said. “It’s been awhile since they had a great playscape, and it really needed some improvements.”
Although North Haven, which lost to New Canaan 42-35 in last year’s Class L final, is ready to get back to business on the field, the spring game has become a highly anticipated town-wide event.
“We use it as a chance to connect with the community and, in past years, with certain individuals,” Sullivan said. “We definitely grow as a team through the event.”