The Colonie Pop Warner team after beating Green County to win the Super Bowl. (Photo by Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
ALBANY — For the first time in 14 years, the Colonie Pop Warner team are Super Bowl champs.
After a hard fought, well-played game against the squad from Green County, The Raiders walked out of Bleeker Stadium with a 16-7 victory on Saturday, Nov. 18.
For Colonie, Michael DonVito caught a touchdown pass from quarterback PJ Parisi, and Luke Szepek recovered a fumble for the second score. Both two-point conversions were successful.
“The kids played hard,” said coach Andy Faragon, who returned to the Pop Warner helm after a 14-year hiatus. “We played them a couple times this year and it’s hard to beat a team more than once. I thought the kids would be a little down but they weren’t. They played hard. They played hard for us all year.”
The coach, and former Kickboxing World Champion, left Colonie Pop Warner and coached at the high school level, including a stint at Lansingburgh, before he came back home and jumped back into Colonie Pop Warner as an assistant. He doesn’t have any kids playing, he just saw the league struggling and decided to get back involved.
And his wife gave him the green light – a bright one.
“I love the game, I love the kids and I love coaching,” he said. “I went to Lansingburgh for six years and when I stopped coaching over there I tried to take some time off and my wife said ‘now there is more time for us.’ But after three months she said ‘why don’t you go back to coaching.’”
To view a photo gallery of the game click here.
In his first year as head coach, the squad went 7-1 this season losing to Albany by one point in overtime. Of course, the record matters as a tangible means of gauging a season’s success but Pop Warner teaches kids so much more than how to punt, pass, kick and tackle.
“It teaches you so much more than just football,” Faragon said. “When they get in a huddle, it’s not about black, white, green, purple, red or whatever. It’s about teamwork and one unit working together. That’s part of what football teaches them and that’s part of what Pop Warner teaches them.”
He said there were players in the stands cheering on the squad Saturday who he coached during his 33-year career and who had boys on the field playing against Green County. He never, though, coached any of his own kids.
“They made some great friends and they will stay great friends,” he said of his current team. “Some of them will go to different schools, but they will keep in touch. The relationships we developed over the years are amazing and they are still strong and these kids will experience the same thing.”
Martha Vadney, president of Colonie Pop Warner, said it was a long 14 years during which the league almost folded. She called this season a “great story of an underdog.”
“We went through a little bit of a shake up and nobody wanted to take it and people at the meeting looked at me and that’s how I became president,” she said. “We now have a supportive board of people who are very tight-knit and hardworking and who helped us go from almost no football program to winning the Super Bowl. Not many people standing on the field know what we went through to do it.”
Faragon did know and his contagious enthusiasm for the game and belief in the kids he coaches is one reason the organization made such a comeback, she said.
“He is the total package. He’s a motivator and a coach and he unites people and brings them together and he understands boys and children and how to get the most out of them,” she said. “They like him and respect him and they lay their heart at his feet.”
Vadney has been involved with Pop Warner for some 23 years and she too said the kids take away more than football skills.
“It’s about family and loyalty and about growing up and being a man and having honor and perseverance,” she said. “We had a boy who wanted to quit the second week of practice but he has come so far and today I watched him embrace Andy at the end of the game and those are the things I think about.”
Faragon said one of the things he focused on this week was to “finish.” The kids took it as to finish what was a great season but there is more to it.
“Yes, we were asking them to ‘finish’ the season, but they also look at it as finish your homework finish your stuff at school finish your job when you get a job. Just finish things,” he said. “There is come talent out there and as a coach you have to know what to do with it, but there is so much more to it.”
Pop Warner is a place for coaches to hone a youth’s raw athletic ability the players may not even realize they have. While all that’s going on, they may not realize life lessons they are learning that is a by-product of long hard practices that include tackling dummies and running sprints.
“We practiced really hard all season and at every practice we were told to never let up,” said 12-year-old Geneo Savoca. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is we have to play as a team. You can’t play as an individual you have to play as a team. And we played as a team today.”
“They also taught us to finish,” he added with a smile.