Johnston High School’s football Panthers honored the nation’s veterans in a huge way last Friday night inside Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Stadium.
Score-wise, head coach Joe Acciardo’s football force didn’t come out on top against the visiting Cranston High School West Falcons. However, in terms of producing a crowd, the blue and white was number one.
“This has got to be the largest crowd ever since this complex was built,” said Dave Pingitore, a Johnston firefighter and youth football coach. “There’s over a couple of thousand people here, and that’s great for a special night.”
The game was billed as a “Salute to Service,” as the Rhode Island Interscholastic League that governs all school sports in the state teamed up with the Rhode Island National Guard to honor the nation’s veterans.
Both school bands were on site, as were the Falconettes Dance Troupe and West Ettes, the Panthers band and award-winning chorus under the direction of Ron Lamoureux, and Johnston High’s nationally recognized cheerleading corps, which is coached by Susan Parillo. The schools’ mascots also livened up the night.
In the middle of it all was Don Iafrate, Johnston High class of 1967, who served as the game’s honorary captain.
“He should have been [honorary captain],” Acciardo said. “Here’s a man that gave 34 years and six months of service to our country.”
Iafrate, who played and started all four years at Johnston High, performed the pre-game coin toss and joined the Panthers and Falcons captains at mid-field, where he was congratulated for his countless years of service by the entire referee team.
“Don’s a great guy and a great veteran,” Acciardo said. “He’s at every practice, he’s at every game … he’s Mr. Dedication when it comes to our country and Panther football.”
Iafrate was a running back and defensive safety that sometimes played in the secondary if there was an injury or the Panthers simply didn’t have enough players.
But Iafrate’s service to the country was as unique as the camouflage jerseys the National Guard donated for each team to wear in last Friday night’s game. He received two wavers – which he said is unheard of – to serve in the National Guard past age 60, and did so until he was 62.
Also taking part in the “Salute to Service” – which is being done statewide with a total of 14 Rhode Island high schools – were Sgt. First Class Jason Blouin and Sgt. Paul Cataldo, who passed out a number of National Guard keepsakes like lanyards and key chains.
Principal Dennis Morrell and Athletic Director Keith Cory greeted the two officers on a night when Johnston High honored each and every veteran that attended the game.
Johnston High Principal Dennis Morrell, left, greets Rhode Island National Guard Sgt. First Class Jason Blouin, center, and Sgt. Paul Cataldo, right, during last Friday night’s “Salute to Service.” (Sun Rise photos by Pete Fontaine)
Cranston West Falconettes coach Christine Baum, right, who is a 1994 Johnston High School grad, joins Reegan Moretti of her dance troupe prior to last Friday night’s “Salute to Service.” 3
Kathleen Jaroma, left, who proudly wears the Panther mascot outfit, joins Falcons mascot Matt Fyrer prior to last Friday’s kick-off. 4
Johnston High school’s award-winning chorus, under the direction of Ron Lamoureux, delivers a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. 5
Don Iafrate, center, a 1967 Johnston High grad, was given the distinction of performing the coin toss prior to last Friday’s “Salute to Service.” He served 43 years and six months in the National Guard, and is joined here by each team’s captains. 6
Johnston High’s cheerleading corps helped make last Friday night’s “Salute to Service” football game special with their impressive routines and spirit.