It was the first event of its kind for the Friends of Gryphon Football and everyone agreed it was an overwhelming success. Certainly, early in the planning stages I wouldn’t have believed we’d be able to turn out more than 60 alumni, players, coaches and supporters of the program in Niagara. The goal of this event was to bring out alumni to meet the current players and coaching staff and update them on what is going on in the football program and with the Friends of Gryphon Football organization. And since Gryphon football is a family, the event included the parents, siblings and grandparents of past, present and future Gryphons.
- A big thank you needs to go out to football alumnus Peter Partridge and his wife Poppy Gilliam. They have a beautiful home perched atop the eastern edge of the Twelve Mile Creek valley, conveniently located almost in downtown St Catharines. From the 3-season room, to the patio, to the fully-equipped and covered outdoor bar we couldn’t have asked for anything more. But on top of that they put in a lot of work to prepare for a nearly perfect event.
At events like this I particularly enjoy meeting some of the alumni that I’ve only known by reputation or as names on an old roster. Monday night that included a chance to meet former All Canadian DB Bryan Maltby [BA-Econ’91] for the first time. [FYI Maltby was the Gryphons’ 1987 Rookie of the Year, an OUAA All Star from 1988-1991, and a 3-time Defensive MVP.] After a dozen years working for major financial services companies Maltby has been a partner in Brady & Maltby Financial Services for the past decade.
- Later on I met former receiver Peter Barnowski [BSc’94]. Barnowski told some interesting stories about being a young receiver and having to go up against the veteran all star Maltby in one-on-ones. We also chatted about the super-talented 1992 team, some of its individual players, the Yates Cup win and the subsequent tough loss to Queen’s in the Churchill Bowl.
- Head Coach Stu Lang, DC Kevin MacNeill, Spec. Teams & Recruiting Coordinator Bill Brown, Spec. Teams assistant & recruiter John Casasanta, LB Coach Adam Grandy and Def. Asst Mike Aloisio all made the time to come to Niagara and meet the local alumni, families and coaches. As a group our coaches did a great job representing the program. Brown and Casasanta are Niagara natives who are well known in the local football community. Lang, MacNeill, Grandy and Aloisio were meeting many of the supporters gathered for the first time in an informal setting. It was a great setting for people to get to know each other.
- Friends of Gryphon Football president Randy Dimitroff and Coach Lang each spoke briefly to update folks on what was happening within the program and the FoGF organization. There was also a brief and informal question and answer period. I really like the effort of the leaders of our program to be open and accountable to those who care most about the program and I look forward to this being repeated in other locations as well.
- The coaches in attendance didn’t end with the members of the Gryphons staff. There were a significant number of local high school and OVFL coaches, including five who were former Guelph players. Many of these coaches have had a role in developing some of the many Niagara players who have gone on to play at Guelph.
- The group included a couple of Niagara coaching legends – Red Ferracutti and David Howe. The now retired Ferracutti had tremendous success at nearby Denis Morris High School, where he coached for thirty or more years. Among the many DM grads who came to Guelph over those decades were Don Ziraldo  and Parri Ceci . Howe is an OVFL Hall of Famer who had more than a dozen of his former Spears players go on to star with the Gryphons. In the past decade Howe has built a successful real estate career with Royal LePage Niagara and he made a significant contribution when asked to be a sponsor of the event.
- There were a half dozen current Spears coaches present. They included Gryphon alumni Michael Fortino and Nick Woehl, plus former scout team QB Matt Woehl, who all work with the JV Spears. They arrived late as they had a practice to run earlier in the evening.
- I also had my first real conversation with 2nd year QB Evan Murdza and his parents. Steve and Vivian are both UofG graduates and, as they often have at P-o-P events, they again supplied the wine – red & white VQA wines from Coyote’s Run Estate Winery. Ever since reading an article in Portico – How sweet it is – I have been waiting for the opportunity to ask Steve some questions about his ice wine syrup product. While it is generally considered a gourmet product I couldn’t help but think it could be a key ingredient in some excellent “tailgate” fare. More on that in the future. As he has always done, Evan is quarterbacking a summer men’s passing league team and playing in multiple tournaments.
- I also had a chance to speak to 2014 linebacker recruit Pat Stairs [Lakeshore Catholic] and his mother for the first time. I don’t doubt for a second his reputation for being a big hitter who is almost always described as mean and nasty. You would never know it when you meet him in a social setting. Nice young man.
- The next planned regional event of this sort will be in Burlington for Hamilton and Halton region alumni. FoGF head honcho Randy Dimitroff and head coach Stu Lang will again be there. It sounds like assistant coaches Brian Cluff and Mike MacDonald will be among the coaches there. The date/time is Tuesday, June 17 @ 7pm. We’ll be trying a different type of venue [Shoeless Joe’s, 1250 Brant St] and there will be a $10 cover charge. Email Randy D at firstname.lastname@example.org for info or to RSVP.