Athletes to honor fallen heroes

Avonworth’s second home game of the season will take on more significance than the typical high school football game.

Yes, everyone will be looking for great plays, no injuries, and a final score favoring the home team, but as announcers from the booth call the plays, the crowd will hear some unfamiliar names.

“Thirty-yard pass to Toby Hopkins is good for another Avonworth touchdown!”

“Rich McCormick runs it for 10 and another Avonworth first down.”

And so on, as throughout the game, spectators from both teams will hear names that most have never before heard. Unfamiliar names, 15 for each team. It will all be part of a “Gold Star Game,” Avonworth vs. New Brighton Lions, on Sept. 14, with those 15 players from each team representing fallen heroes -- those who were killed in action in wars and conflicts dating back to Vietnam.

To further clarify, Toby Hopkins really will be senior wide receiver Turner Grau, No. 8, and Rich McCormick really will be senior Xavier Sasala, No. 52.

The fact that Toby and Turner’s grandfather, David Roth, were best friends adds to the appropriateness of that pairing.

“It's an honor to be playing in this game and representing one of the fallen heroes! It's pretty surreal that I will be representing Toby Hopkins, who was one of my grandfather's best friends and who just so happened to play the same position I do -- wide receiver --for Avonworth over 50 years ago. He lost his life, just one week into serving in Vietnam. It's humbling,” Turner said.

As the game continues, each player will be announced by the name of the fallen hero whom he represents. When a play is made, the present-day athlete’s name will not be referenced, but instead the name of the hero whom he is representing will be heard.

Players representing the fallen heroes will be introduced prior to the game, and a page in the program will provide an ongoing reminder of player-hero match-ups.

The event has been planned in coordination with Gold Star Mothers, a private, nonprofit organization of American mothers who lost sons or daughters in service of the United States Armed Forces.

Other Pennsylvania schools have taken part in the program during previous seasons, but this will be the first for this area of the state and the first whereby both teams will be representing fallen heroes.

Dana Gilbertson Tabay, an Avonworth Class of 1998 grad and now a resident of New Brighton, suggested that the two teams host a Gold Star game, and with coaches and administrators at both schools in agreement, plans began to take shape over the summer. Dana’s brother, Bobby Gilbertson, also an Avonworth grad, passed away 10 years ago while serving.

The 15 players selected include mostly starters and those frequently used in rotation, so that the heroes’ names might be heard as frequently as possible.

Football boosters helped to organize the event under the leadership of Dana, along with Megan Grau, mother of Turner Grau.

There will be a “meet and greet” dinner on Sunday, Sept 9, so that both teams’ coaches and player representatives and their immediate families might meet the families of the fallen heroes.