Aquinas High School’s football stadium was rockin’ and rollin’ last week, but it was not the Fighting Irish who were on the field. It was the final game of the season for St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School’s middle school football team.
“After 31 years, we can finally say the St. Mary’s Saints are back and here to stay,” the announcer said, bringing cheers from the crowd in the bleachers.
The team disbanded in 1980, as did the league it belonged to at the time. Two years ago, middle school football started in the CSRA Private Schools League, and leaders of the Summerville school began discussing how to get their football program going again.
Organizer Sean Burke said they had to get a coaching staff and uniforms. They hoped at least 25 boys come out for the team. Instead, they had 42.
“We had to raise money to start it up from ground zero,” Burke said. “We couldn’t believe the support that came from the community and the parents.”
With business sponsors from the community, the school was able to suit up all 42 players. Dan MacEachern volunteered as head coach, and five other volunteers assisted him. The program serves as a feeder into Aquinas High School’s Fighting Irish football program.
“We said we didn’t care if we win a game or not as long as they learn the fundamentals of the game, how to be a team player and have fun. If they did that, we will have succeeded,” Burke said.
The Saints ended their season with a 3-4 record, having played against Episcopal Day School, Westminster Schools of Augusta, Curtis Baptist School, Augusta Christian Schools, Edmund Burke Academy and Augusta Preparatory Day School.
“We’ve had a good season, done a lot of growing,” offensive coordinator Bryson Trulock said. of the Saints. “We’ve had a tough schedule. But as hard as they’ve worked, it doesn’t show in their wins-losses.”
Although the Saints had 14 eighth-graders who will move on to high school next year, Trulock said the team had four sixth-graders who were starters this year.
“They are all great kids, so we are looking for some great years ahead,” he added.
Quarterback Liam Welch, an eighth-grader, said his father played for St. Mary when he was in middle school. Liam’s younger brother, George, also played this year, making it a family affair.
“I was really hyped when I heard about the team,” Liam said. “I’m glad I got to play my last year. It’s been awesome. My little brother is a wide receiver, so he’s my favorite to throw to.”
“We feel so lucky to have the team and the sportsmanship they’ve shown,” said Liam’s mother, Mary Beth Welch. “Their conduct on and off the field has been tremendous, and they’ve made so many friends they wouldn’t normally have made. I’m so proud of them.”