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Tresolini: Bonds from Blue-Gold week will last a lifetime

1:11 AM, Jul. 01, 2012 EDT

Aaron Janusz, 7, of suburban Wilmington, smiles as he meets with Sean Pie of Concord High School before the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game on June 23. / William Bretzger/The News Journal

The thought struck while sitting inside the Modern Maturity Center in Dover at the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game banquet.

And it came again the next night inside Delaware Stadium, where 23-year-old Laura Kelly read the most poignant invocation that could have preceded a sporting event.

Among the many qualities the state of Delaware provides, for those of you born here and those of us transplanted here, there may be none better than this event.

Not because it's a football game, but because it is such a breaker of barriers and creator of bonds, many of which last a lifetime.

As those who've been around a while know, the Blue-Gold game was started in 1956 by Bob Carpenter and Jim Williams, successful, hard-working men who each had a child with a disability.

Both men, now deceased, would have appreciated the profound effect their brainchild still has.

"In those years, there was little understanding of such children, who were often institutionalized for life," Jim Williams' son Pat, the longtime NBA general manager, wrote in his touching 2003 Sports Illustrated piece headlined "The Blue-Gold Bridge."

Speaking of himself and best friend Ruly Carpenter, who were 1958 Blue teammates, Williams wrote, "Our fathers decided to create an event to raise awareness - and money - to help mentally handicapped kids."

Ever since, the top recently graduated high school football players from the north (Blue) and south (Gold) have met for a game at Delaware Stadium.

But the tackles aren't what make Blue-Gold special. It's the touches.

Since 1974, the Hand-in-Hand program has matched game participants - players, cheerleaders, band members and ambassadors - with children whom the game benefits for various social activities, such as picnics, walks and bowling. Therein lies Blue-Gold's unique appeal: Putting people together who would not normally meet and, in doing so, permanently altering their appreciation and perspective.

It may only be possible in a state this small, where every high school can have representatives and anyone can be involved in a game that everybody is close enough to attend.

Two moments last weekend crystallized the game's special meaning.

At that banquet Friday, among the many awards presented, there were two to players who exhibited "an exceptional buddy relationship."

For each recipient, the Blue's Sean Pie from Concord and the Gold's Taylor Reynolds from Newark, a letter was read from the family of their buddy - Aaron Janusz for Pie and Hayden Wyttenbach for Reynolds.

Each spoke of a tender friendship forged between a young boy and young man, each of whom had had his heart and eyes opened in unexpected ways. They had, in many ways, become brothers.

And then, on that beautiful Saturday night, came the invocation by Laura, a former Hand-in-Hand participant. Behind her stood her sister Amanda, a Blue cheerleader from St. Mark's.

"We are thankful for the gift of friendship that we know at Blue-Gold," she said, "that each team be given courage, tolerance and grace, so that win or lose, we will leave this field, at the end of the game, as friends. ... May Blue-Gold live in our hearts, today and always. Amen."

Amen, indeed.

By that time, I'd watched my daughter Tara, a Gold cheerleader who chronicled her experiences in these pages, revel in the experience, make new friends and gain fresh perspective.

And I'd also made a buddy myself. Mike Luternau, a resident of the Mary Campbell Center and Blue-Gold game committee volunteer, sped in his motorized wheelchair into an open spot next to me at our table at the banquet.

Soon we were chatting and high-fiving, and there I was putting sugar in Mike's iced tea and cutting his food, tasks that are difficult for him. We pledged to keep in touch, which we have.

How about that Blue-Gold game.



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