Biggest play of the game came after it was over

October 24, 2004|By Dan Rodricks

IT WAS, of course, the most important game of the season for the Renegades, a team of 10- to 12- year-olds from Middle River who play in the National Division of the Harford/Baltimore County Youth Football League. Check that: Maybe these kids don't "play" so much as "compete" because, according to the league's Web site, this National Division is "comprised of the most competitive programs in H/B football." And we are long past that time and place in America when kids just seemed to go out and play, rather than compete in formalized, parent-controlled sports all across the fruited plain.

But anyway, Middle River's game against second-place Bel Air was pivotal, if anything can be said to be "pivotal" in the world of 10-year- olds.

Win, and the Renegades could stay alive for the league playoffs.

Lose, and they'd have to depend on other teams' success or failure to qualify for the postseason.

Middle River had had many successful teams over the years, some of them coached by the same man who headed up this season's 10-12 squad, Mark Dwarte. Dwarte has coached youth football for 17 years - since his son, Marquis Dwarte, now a graduate student and running back coach at McDaniel College, was in grade school. Mark Dwarte's first team at Middle River was undefeated. He's had winners since.

But not this year's team.

Middle River had four losses going into the Oct. 9 game against Bel Air.

Bel Air had lost twice.

It was an important game for both teams, but especially the Renegades.

"And my team knew it," says Dwarte. "We told them, all week long in practice and the night of the game: It was a must-win if we were going to make the playoffs on our own, without help from some other team in the last weeks of the season."

So the Renegades knew what was on the line.

They had to give their best effort to stay alive for the playoffs.

They came into the game with fire, their coach says. And it was a great game, played under the Saturday night lights at Middle River Middle School.

With under a minute to go in the game, the Renegades were winning, 19-12. They had managed to limit Bel Air's passing game. "We had scouted them, we had video, we knew what we had to do," says Dwarte.

But with less than 30 seconds to go, a Bel Air wing named Philip Castronova managed to get free, and he caught a pass stepping backward into the end zone for the score. Middle River still led by one point, 19-18. There were 28 seconds showing on the clock.

Youth football gives two points, instead of one, for a kick after touchdown. Nice feature. It encourages teams to develop kickers and it rewards kids who can master the skill.

In addition to being a receiver and defensive back, Philip Castronova, a former soccer player, is the Bel Air kicker. Middle River had blocked two of his two-point conversion attempts earlier in the game. But his coach, Blaine Greig, sent Castronova back for one more try.

Two points and Bel Air would have the lead and probably the game.

"It's a tough thing in youth football," says Dwarte. "You have to have a good snap, a good hold and a good kick. All that has to work. ... And this boy [Castronova] came in and, yeah, he got off a great kick, NFL-style, high and deep."

Bel Air took the lead, 20-19.

Middle River made one more valiant attempt to score, but time expired, and so did the Renegades' chance to clinch a playoff spot.

Up to this point in the story we have not mentioned Monty Garland. And that's because Monty Garland is a substitute player for Middle River, and he hadn't seen much action in the Bel Air game. When Dwarte uses him, it's as a tight end or wide receiver. Monty is 13, an "older but lighter" player allowed on a 10-12 team.

"He's not an impact player but he's a good kid who showed us in early practices that he was motivated," says Dwarte. "And he pretty much earned a place on the team."

It's not what Monty Garland did in the game but after it that matters here.

"It's what I'll remember most about this game years from now," says Sharon Castronova, mother of the game's hero, Philip.

She and her son were walking away from the game, through the parking lot, when Monty Garland ran up and said, "Hey, that was a great kick!" Philip was stunned and said, "Thanks." And, just like that, the Middle River kid ran back to his team. The exchange lasted just seconds.

The loser had complimented the victor. The loser pushed aside his disappointment and went out of his way to congratulate an opponent.

There must not be a lot of this kind of thing in our midst because Sharon Castronova was shocked and wrote an e-mail about it, and that e-mail went all over the place - "I wonder who among us would have or could have done the same," it said - and here I am telling you all about this 13-year-old's fleeting moment of graciousness.

There must be something we're all looking for in sports but see so seldom that, when it finally does appear, it flashes like gold.

"It showed great character and sportsmanship," says Sharon Castronova.

"I certainly appreciate what Monty did," says Mark Dwarte. "He may not be an impact player but certainly his head's in the right place."

I'd say his heart, too.

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