By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 11/27/19
Greg Gurenlian has played lacrosse at the highest levels in college, the pros and on the International stage, and been anointed by many as the best faceoff player in lacrosse history.
But he has never forgotten his roots at Springfield-Delco and Delaware County where the Springfield-vs.-Ridley lacrosse rivalry has always been heated but respectful.
“Ridley vs Springfield Lacrosse is the most historic sports rivalry in SE PA,” Gurenlian said. “Being part of it growing up was incredible.
“However, as competitive as we are on the field, the one thing we all share a love and kinship with is the Colleluori family and the HEADstrong mission.”
Gurenlian has been “accused” of stirring up the rivalry, albeit in a good way, by posting on social media this summer that Springfield and Ridley should meet in an Alumni Game. With the help of some, one being Ridley grad and longtime coach Matt Flynn, who pushed for alums of the two neighboring schools to come together and create a special event.
The result, after much hard work: The inaugural Alumni Rivalry Game between Ridley and Springfield, a special benefit game slated for Friday at 1 p.m. at Ridley’s Phil Marion Field.
“This event has been on my mind for years and I’m really glad this is coming to fruition,” Gurenlian said. “Our communities can do a lot of good together.”
Flynn said that Gurenlian pushed for the rivalry game on social media and then HEADstrong’s Pat Colleluori reached out to Ridley grads to see if there was interest.
“The social media created a lot of back-and-forth banter – all fun stuff,” said Flynn. “A few weeks went by and we said if this is going to happen somebody better get the specifics.
“I reached out to (Ridley High coach) Rory Friel and (former Springfield coach) Michael Friel and the process started.”
Ridley has won six state championships in its storied history and mighty Springfield has won five, two in recent years. The teams met for the Avery F. Blake Memorial Trophy (just for Eastern PA teams but accepted as the state crown) in 1994 and 1997 and both times Ridley won in a tight match.
“We both have had some great teams,” said Flynn, a 1982 Ridley grad who will be playing Friday. “We have a great team; so do they. There is a lot of respect with the two teams.
“A lot of the guys competed together in college or on club teams or became friendly.
“When we created the rosters we sent out notes (invites). But after we made the rosters, some others contacted us, like Brian Pot, who had the winning goal for Ridley in the 1994 state title game. He is a legend! I told him ‘We need you in this game.’
Flynn said the players will mostly play against others in the same age group since there are players ranging in age from 18 to 60. In the final period, the best players will take the stage.
“Of course, people will be playing to win the whole time, but we want everyone to get to play,” Flynn said.
Flynn said that having the HEADstrong Foundation as a beneficiary was a “no-brainer.”
“Obviously Nick was born in Ridley and the Foundation has had such an impact on lacrosse,” he said. “This is the 13th anniversary of Nick’s passing. I coached him in youth ball and in club ball and he truly was the person that you read about.
“He was a fierce competitor, but just a great kid. The Foundation turned a tragic situation into the ability to help others.”
General admission tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased in advance. Proceeds will support the HEADstrong Foundation and their commitment to local families overcome by cancer.
For many, this event is a nod to the rich history of both Ridley and Springfield’s programs, who have been instrumental in laying the framework for the growth of the game in the Philly region. For some, it’s nostalgia and a chance to relive their glory days. For some it’s bragging rights.
For all, it’s a chance to memorialize and celebrate the lives of two very special athletes, Ridley’s #27 Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori and Springfield’s #14 Nicholas “NACHO” Baratelle, who both succumbed to cancer.
As a former captain of Green Raiders, Colleluori’s tenacious defensive play once wreaked havoc on opponents and was instrumental in leading his program to three consecutive state titles.
At just 19, Colleluori was terminally diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma shortly into his sophomore year at Hofstra University and created the HEADstrong Foundation to serve as “the” resource that he wish existed for his own family when the rug was ripped out from under them in 2005.
Tragically, at just 21, Colleluori lost his untimely battle in 2006 but his legacy carries on through the charity.
Baratelle, was an accomplished goalie at Springfield and played collegiately at Wheeling Jesuit University. At 19, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Disseminating Oligodendroglioma-like leptomeningeal tumors. Baratelle lost his fight on July 11, 2018, he was just 22.
To honor their fallen brothers, all of the members of Ridley’s team will take the field dawning #27, the number that Colleluori proudly wore as a member of the Green Raiders and Springfield will take the field wearing Baratelle’s #14. In addition, each program will wear a commemorative patch in support of Mike “Flake” Falasca, a former player and longtime coach at Ridley who is currently battling Multiple Myeloma.
From legendary Cougars such as Greg “The Beast” Gurenlian, Austin Kaut and Kyle Sweeney to Ridley greats such as Andrew Cleghorn, Brett Moyer and Marc Schaffer, the rosters have been assembled and will feature some of the most accomplished athletes that sport has ever seen. The rosters are made up of current and former members of Team USA, current and former professionals, collegiate and high school All-Americans, countless former All-State and All-County selections that span the past 30 years.
More than 50 athletes from each legendary program will suit up for this very special event. Both programs are competing to raise funds to support local families overcome by cancer through the charitable mission of the HEADstrong Foundation.
The Alumni Rivalry Game will also pay homage to Ridley’s Joe Stranix and Springfield’s Sean Duffy. Stranix and Duffy will both be presented with an award at the event for their dedication and commitment to their programs, community and the sport at large. Additionally, HEADstrong Sports, a division of the HEADstrong Foundation will be making a commitment to both programs through an annual donation of new boys and girls youth lacrosse sticks in an effort to provide opportunity to grow the sport within each community.