Father Judge High set to make high school football history in Ireland

Dan Toner hugs his mother, Karen, as the Father Judge football team boards a bus to the airport for the trip to Ireland.
Dan Toner hugs his mother, Karen, as the Father Judge football team boards a bus to the airport for the trip to Ireland. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 31, 2012

WHEN IT comes to sports firsts, Ryan Mackiewicz' résumé already includes one impressive entry.

Now he's about to shoot for another and, if he's successful, Cool Memory No. 1 will become a distant No. 2.

Yes, Mackiewicz, now a 5-11, 188-pound senior, enjoyed himself immensely last May 2 when his RBI single capped a two-run home seventh and lifted Father Judge High to a stirring 5-4 win over Roman Catholic in Game No. 1 on the school's new turf baseball field.

Friday? The stakes will be a wee bit higher.

Mackiewicz - catcher in baseball, quarterback in football - will be trying to lead the Crusaders to victory in the first game ever played by a Philly high school on foreign soil.

How foreign? Across the pond, baby! Judge will be meeting Notre Dame Prep, of Scottsdale, Ariz., at Pairc Tailteann Stadium in Navan, Ireland. Game time there is 7:30 p.m., which translates to 5 hours earlier here.

That won't be all. Saturday, the Crusaders will watch Notre Dame play Navy in the Emerald Isle Classic at Aviva Stadium, in Dublin.

"Notre Dame, that's my favorite college," Mackiewicz gushed Monday morning, prior to the Crusaders' last round of Judge-based practices. "The whole experience of being at that game is going to be crazy. Insane. The majority of us will be rooting for Notre Dame. Yeah, some will be cheering for Navy, and they're taking heat over that."

Judge's players, coaches and support personnel, 80 strong, flew to Ireland Tuesday by way of Boston. Sightseeing tours have since mixed with practices and special meals.

Mackiewicz, of course, does not exactly match with, say, O'Shaughnessy.

"Yup, it's Polish," he said. "There might be a little bit of Irish on my mother's side. But not much, that I know of. I was reading up. Getting prepared. I was mostly checking up on what kind of weather we could expect. And I did a Google images search on the Cliffs of Moher. That place looks beautiful.

"This will be something I'll remember for the rest of my life. The best part is, I'll be sharing it with my teammates. With all the guys who are part of the brotherhood. The entire trip will be awesome. But we can't forget the main thing we want to do: Win the game!"

When the summer began, Mackiewicz was worried it might drag on forever.

"Actually, it went by kind of fast," he said. "I mean, here we are."

And what a noteworthy summer it was . . .

This is Special Trip No. 2 for the Mackiewicz family. The first occurred in June, and proved to be quite the uplifting experience.

Ryan's mother, Jennifer, was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. All's great now, Ryan said, and the family, having been nominated by a doctor at Aria Hospital's Torresdale branch, was chosen to receive a free Florida vacation by For Pete's Sake.

On its website, FPS said it "enables cancer patients and their loved ones the opportunity to strengthen, deepen and unify their relationships by creating unforgettable and lasting respite vacations."

"Seeing my mom get cancer, that was really a hard, life-changing experience," Mackiewicz said. "It was something I never would have expected. She's so young. Only 40. Everything's fine now. It reminds you, we all have to overcome things. Luckily, I always had my football family to help me, too."

Judge's trip to Ireland was in the works for roughly 18 months. The Crusaders' game will be one of six at the high school level (three doubleheaders) in different locales. The event's title is Global Ireland Football Tournament and one of the group's organizers is Judge/Notre Dame product Bill Gallagher, who gave Judge coach Tommy Coyle (class of 1987) his first coaching job at Penn Charter.

Aside from Mackiewicz, a list of other prominent Crusaders includes tight end-linebacker Brandon Spatz, two-way backs Marquis Seamon and Dennis Boice, wide receiver-defensive back Matt Robinson and big-'un lineman Vince LoStracco.

Coyle said the presence of family members would make Judge's contingent about 200 strong and that another 50 to 60 people, having made their own arrangements, indicated they'd also be in Ireland. The players are staying two to three to a room and, when possible, family members are staying in the same hotels.

The Mackiewicz crew is seven strong: Mom and dad, Ron; sister Megan; aunt and uncle Dawn and Mark Altomare; and grandmom June Boone.

Coyle said the cost per player was about $900. Some paid that amount, but most whittled down the cost primarily by selling ads and/or getting friends/family to buy trip-oriented memorabilia at nearby Lloyd Sixsmith Sporting Goods. Three players, he added, respectfully declined to make the trip.

The generosity of supporters was overwhelming. Approximately 25 companies/individuals donated $3,000 apiece. Fifteen gave $500 to $1,000 and 50 more contributed $100 to $200.

Former Judge football star Jim Casey (first-team All-Catholic DB, class of '83) will be one of the referees in the ND-Navy game.

"When this starts," Coyle said, "you're laying in bed at night thinking, 'Is this going to happen? Can we do it?' You don't want to think negatively, but this was a really big project. You're afraid of failing. To know that we've done it, and to see how great people have been, it gives you a wonderful feeling."

As for the game itself, which will be available for viewing at www.gift2012.com/watch-live/ . . .

"We have three of their films from last year," Coyle said. "They're a talented team. Seem to be a lot like La Salle . . . They made it to the quarterfinals of their classification in the state tournament last year. A very sad side story is that their coach, Scot Bemis, died of cancer [last January]. They'll have heavy hearts as they take the field, and they'll be motivated to play in his honor."


Contact Ted Silary at silaryt@phillynews.com. High school coverage online at www.philly.com/rally.

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