Right now, the Point Pleasant High School Panthers are killing it on the football field. At 6-0, they’re undefeated and in prime position to win their division.
But the team’s greatest accomplishments are not on the field but off it.
Since 2013, the Panthers have been playing with the Point Pleasant Pirates, a flag football program for special needs kids. The compete in a program called Co-Ed Challenger Flag Football. I recently had the chance to participate in one of these intertown clashes and while the game may not have been a nail-biter — the Pirates won 36-12 to keep alive an undefeated season of their own — the experience was incredible.
When I first arrived at Sean Henry Field, the first thing that struck me was the amazing atmosphere. It felt exactly like a typical high school football game. The band was blaring. Cheerleaders were entertaining the crowd. Players were everywhere: warming up, chatting, hydrating. Their passion for football cut through the chilly morning air like a sword. The players were bonded by their love of the game — and it showed on the field.
Once warmups ended, one of the best parts of the day began. The players from both teams lined up, and announcer Collin Ansbach (and a member of the Panthers) introduced each and every one of them. He even attached nicknames that would make even the guards at Buckingham Palace laugh. It was especially fun to watch and listen as Ansbach ragged on his Panther teammates. “I would tell you guys their names, but they’re freshmen so it doesn’t matter.” The crowd loved it.
It was jaw dropping witnessing Ansbach’s ability to psych up the players and rally the fans at the same time.
After the intros, the Point Pleasant band played the National Anthem. And then it was time for football.
The Panthers got the ball first, but they didn’t keep it for long. Pirate David Richards had a pick-six to take an early lead and the Pirates never lost it.
Everyone contributed to the overall effort. Andrew Preziosi had two big 20-plus yard runs, including the game-clinching touchdown as time all but expired. Another notable contribution came from former Panther turned Pirate Kyle Ryan aka “The Snowman,” or simply “Albino.” He was 5-5 with 85 yards in the second half to help seal a 36-12 Pirate victory.
It was clear that this program is a joy for everybody involved.
Pirates coach Dan Richards said that the most special moment for him came in the first year when his son David got to be with the players as they headed out onto the field.
Panther Devin Connellyrecalled one of the first games. “We were playing in Toms River North on their turf field, and there was an entire whole Pop Warner crowd there,” Connelly remembered. “It was awesome.”
For others, the special moments were more recent. “My pick-six,” Pirate Matthew Voelbel said.
While everyone had their own great memories for the games, there was one thing everyone agreed on.
When I asked the players and coaches from both teams to describe the program with one word, they all gave the same answer: Amazing.
Check out the Point Pleasant website to learn more about these incredible kids and teams!
Photos: J.J. Post