Valley Blackshirts grateful for opportunity to play


By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Jason Palmieri (8) throws a pass during the Valley Blackshirts’ game against the Quassapaug Warriors on Oct. 31 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. The Blackshirts lost that game, 13-6, but won their Nov. 7 game against New London, 19-18, before the rest of the Connecticut Independent High School Football League season was canceled. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — This time they knew, at least, that their season was about to end.

The Valley Blackshirts, the team composed mostly of Woodland players, concluded its shortened season in the Connecticut Independent High School Football League with a 19-18 victory over a squad from New London County on Nov. 7 at Woodland.

The season was cut short after only two official games due to recent guidance from the Connecticut Department of Public Health that discouraged any organization from sponsoring 11-on-11 football, among other sports deemed to carry a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The shutdown wasn’t entirely unexpected. Players and organizers knew the whole time that their season was constantly walking on eggshells and at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of them figured it would be cut off at some point.

“I really can’t say that I was shocked,” said Woodland junior Jason Palmieri, a defensive back who quarterbacked the team in the first game and was a utility player in the second. “Going into the season, we just wanted to get as many games as we could because we always knew there was a possibility of getting shut down.”

Woodland senior Justin Petta, who starred on the defensive line in both contests, said he appreciated the fact that the Blackshirts were allowed to play their final game a day after the news of the impending cancelation broke.

“It was nice to at least know we were playing our last guaranteed game — better than what the CIAC did and cut us off out of nowhere,” Petta said, referring to the stop-and-go messages delivered by the CIAC throughout the summer before abruptly canceling the fall football season. “It motivated us seniors to play extra hard to get the win that day.”

The Blackshirts trailed throughout most of their game against New London but rallied in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.

“It definitely was a fun game,” Petta said. “At halftime we all fully realized it was our last guaranteed chance to play together, and we came out in the second half really motivated.”

Palmieri acknowledged the difficulties of playing on a team that was hastily assembled with players from multiple schools — five from Derby and two from Seymour joined the Hawks — and rookie coaches, but he agreed that the last game was a fun opportunity.

“It obviously wasn’t the same as playing for the high school, but in the last game, it felt just as good to be out there playing,” Palmieri said. “Our team didn’t have a lot of chemistry at all and we had really young coaches. Overall, though, I thought the whole team, including the coaches, did a great job with the time we had together.”

Both players expressed their thanks to the people who organized the league on short notice — and to the parents who ponied up hundreds of dollars each for what ended up being two games and a scrimmage.

“I am incredibly thankful,” Petta said. “I’ve expressed my gratitude to the adults behind the scenes getting this league organized for us.”

“I could not be more grateful knowing that most of the state didn’t get to play and I’m a part of a small group that had the opportunity to get on the field,” Palmieri added. “I really couldn’t be more grateful.”

While the CIAC has not ruled out the possibility of a shortened 11-on-11 season between the winter and spring seasons, the chance seems increasingly unlikely with the current spike in COVID-19 cases and the expectation that it will continue through the winter.

Petta said he’s already received an offer to play football in college, but he remains undecided about his future. Palmieri has one more year left at Woodland and said he will continue training for whenever his next opportunity to get on the field will be as he also eyes college football.

“With the virus still going on, I don’t really know what’s going to happen next,” Palmieri said. “All I can do is work in silence.”