The Valley Independent’s Ethan Fry reported this story from the 2013 Derby-Shelton Rotary Club Thanksgiving Football Luncheon:
Pride. Respect. History. Those were the words that came up time and again Tuesday during the annual Derby-Shelton Rotary Club Thanksgiving Football Luncheon in advance of the turkey day rivalry matchup between the Shelton and Derby high school football teams.
The two teams have enjoyed more than a century of contests, and the traditional pregame gathering goes back nearly as far in time.
About 75 players, coaches, town and school officials, and rotary club members were on hand for Tuesday’s luncheon at the Russian Lodge on Shelton’s Howe Avenue.
The Derby-Shelton Rotary Club’s Stephen Balog organized Tuesday’s luncheon. “It’s a tradition,” Balog said. “This is the big game.”
Bill Miller, the club’s president, noted the rivalry goes back so far, “no one’s really sure” just how many times the two teams have lined up against one another. “There were a couple years there where some funny things went on,” he said. “But this is generational now at this point. It’s fitting. Football is so important to this community.”
The Rotary Club’s Ed Sheehy served as master of ceremonies, and began Tuesday’s event by stressing to players from both teams just how special the local tradition is. “Traditions like this are very special,” Sheehy said, urging players to take to heart what the game means to the communities on either side of the Housatonic River.
Shelton Head Coach Jeff Roy and Derby Head Coach George French then thanked their staffs and players before honoring their senior football players and cheerleaders.
The coaches also introduced an alumnus from each side to speak to players about the game. For Shelton, Drew Pickering, now the owner of Ansonia’s Molto Bene Italian American Kitchen, told players a story that put sports in perspective. Pickering had played freshman football at Shelton High before drifting away from the team his sophomore year. But a friend persuaded him to try out for the team the next year, he said.
“I leave and I go and I start practice,” Pickering said, his voice breaking. “And that day, the shooting happens at the school, and I wasn’t there. So football is different for me now. It wasn’t really about winning or losing or anything at that point.”
Palmieri told the players gathered Tuesday to seize their opportunities. He said he had the option of college scholarships out of high school, but decided instead to take a couple years off. Things worked out for him, he noted, but not all are so lucky. Palmieri also urged the players to be proud of being from the Valley — and that others wish they were. He recalled a trip to Disney World where he struck up a conversation with another Connecticut resident while waiting for a ride. When Palmieri said he was from Derby, the man joked there must be something in the water there. In Derby’s case, anyway, Palmieri told the audience, that’s somewhat true — growing up he traveled from his family’s three-generation house on Smith Street to fill milk bottles from a “natural spring” on North Avenue. Until the late 1980s, when state officials tested the water from the spring, detected formaldehyde from the cemetery above in it and cemented over the water source. “If somebody ever says to you that ‘It’s in the water,’ well, it was in the water,” Palmieri said as the audience laughed.
Sheehy closed the program with a simple request to players on both teams. “Leave it all out on the field, boys,” he said.
One departure from last year’s game — there will be no pregame bet on the outcome between Derby Mayor Anthony Staffieri and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti. Last year they did, and Shelton won, 27-21. As a result,Staffieri had to singLMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” onWPLR.“No bets!” he said at the end of Tuesday’s luncheon. “I had to sing!” Staffieri predicted a Thursday win for the 5-5 Red Raiders: “Derby, 14-7.” Lauretti wasn’t as specific, but backed his team to emerge victorious. “We should win,” he said. The Gaels are better than their 6-4 record implies, the mayor added. “We’ve played a lot of good teams this year,” Lauretti said. “We’ll see what happens.”