Niagara Gazette — They’ve played out their high school football and been handed their diplomas. But last night, they gathered one last time.
Some of Western New York’s recently graduated football stars met to play in the 38th annual Kensington Lions All-Star Football Classic, putting teams of All-Stars from the North against the South. This year, the South won it, 37-21.
For South All-Star Andy Smigiera, what was an epilogue to a high school career for the players was more an exclamation point for him, as he set a new Classic record with five touchdown passes as South defeated North, 37-21.
The North was well represented by players from Niagara County, including Tikere Ralands, the former Niagara Falls Wolverine who is enrolling this fall at Alabama State. Also there in the lineup was Billy Schiavitti, who after setting a dozen new school records at Lew-Port will be heading to Mercyhurst in just a few weeks.
“You know when you get to actually play with them and meet them as a person, not just an opponent, you learn more about them and you guys get to play together and it’s more of a bond,” said Schiavitti. “It’s a lot of fun.”
It’s also no Pro Bowl, which in years past has been heavily criticized as an all-star game that the NFL pros simply don’t take seriously. No, there was clear pride and bragging rights on the line last night.
That was proven by some pretty solid hits and by some exciting plays.
The North got on the scoreboard first early in the first quarter. After South received the ball first but couldn’t get a first down on its first drive, the North blocked its punt attempt and returned it for a score.
Both sides traded touchdowns but South quarterback Andy Smigera of West Seneca East made an early case for the game’s most valuable player, twice scrambling in the backfield to find receivers deep downfield, including a 27-yard pass to former classmate Scott Ackerman.
After North built a 21-14 lead in the second quarter, South earned a safety to cut the lead to 21-16, then scored late in the first half to take the 23-21 lead. Smigiera tossed 16-yard and 10-yard touchdown passes to build South’s lead and secure its win.
Although there was determination to win, some of the division rivalries were put aside this night as players carried out the custom of trading helmet stickers and wearing them. Ian Gilhousen of North Tonawanda was spotted with — gasp! — a Tonawanda logo sticker on his helmet.
“It wouldn’t be the first time. I used to play Little League in Tonawanda,” said Gilhousen. “You know, after the season’s over, there’s no hate. It’s great having everybody stick around and just representing the North side.”
Besides, Tonawanda’s Steve Warthling was spotted with a North Tonawanda Lumberjack logo among those displayed on his own head gear.
“We’re good buddies,” added Gilhousen. “It’s good to see everybody come together and just represent one team.”
Gilhousen will continue his football career at SUNY Brockport, as others will continue to play football in other colleges. Some will enroll in college but hang up the cleats. At least one of them will be in the Marines, South All-Star Tyler Miller of Iroquois. Others still have not yet decided on their future plans.
But for one more night, they were the best among Western New York high school football.