Hounds make national scholar team

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Naugatuck Pop Warner football players and cheerleaders, from left, Tyler Deitelbaum, David Verrilli, Evan Bombery, Matthew Johnson, Shealynn Kuczenski, Rachel Garcia, Casey McGrath, and Brianna Spaulding were among 14 Naugatuck Hounds to make the 2011 Pop Warner National All-American Scholar team. -CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — Five football players and nine cheerleaders from the Naugatuck Pop Warner program were recently honored as part of the 2011 Pop Warner National All-American Scholar team.

The 14 student-athletes earned a trip to the New England banquet at the Dana Farber Field House at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., at the end of March.

Devon Biancarelli-Milano, Evan Bombery, Tyler Deitelbaum, Matthew Johnson, and David Verrilli were the five football players who earned the recognition. Biancarelli-Milano, Deitelbaum, and Johnson were also honored in 2010.

Noel DeFala, Emily Drennan, Rachel Garcia, Lindsey Hassenfeldt, Shealynn Kuczenski, Kylen Kuroski, Casey McGrath, Brianna Spaulding, and Breanna Toomey were the nine recognized cheerleaders. Kuroski and McGrath also earned the honors in 2010.

The banquet was attended by about 2,500 people, according to Naugatuck coach Frank Johnson. Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder was a special guest at the event.

“This year was special,” Johnson said. “The Patriots go out of their way to make it special for the kids, and they give the kids an opportunity to take a tour of the whole facility.”

Only the top 2 percent of about 425,000 Pop Warner participants nationwide earn recognition by the organization.

“You have to maintain about a 95 average and for the semester that we’re in session for football and cheerleading, and it’s very difficult,” Johnson said. “I know these kids get a ton of homework and it’s tough.”

Johnson said he’s impressed that many of the program’s participants realize the importance of balancing school and sports.

“So much emphasis is placed on being a student-athlete, and being an excellent student-athlete starts at a young age,” Johnson said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach all five boys, and something we talk about all the time is using the same drive in the classroom as you use on the football field.”

Johnson said the honorees will be excellent assets as leaders as they continue to grow up in the borough.

“I know in the next four or five years, these kids are going to make a very strong contribution to the high school programs,” Johnson said.