H.S. football: Park Ridge honors Gary Mioli with a win
PARK RIDGE — The tribute was simple and to the point.
The Park Ridge football players set up a makeshift shrine on their bench Saturday as their way of honoring coach Gary Mioli, who died Thursday night on the eve of the season opener.
There was an electric candle, which was just the ticket in a steady rain. There was a bouquet of red and white flowers, and a plastic garden owl — the Park Ridge mascot — mounted on the top of a pole with the American flag.
Everyone smiled at the bottle of orange soda, Mioli’s beverage of choice when he celebrated a Park Ridge victory while doing his patented locker room dance.
But the clincher was the hat.
It’s a straw golf hat — the one that Mioli wore at practice. The coaches carried it out when the team took the field for the season opener against Harrison, placing it reverently among the other mementos, and senior captains Matthew Laquidara and Zachary Katz held it between them as they went out for the opening coin flip.
“The big symbol of Coach is that cowboy hat,” said Laquidara, who scored three touchdowns in a 28-7 win. “Every time I see a cowboy hat, I think of him.”
The players held up well on an evening that began with a moment of silence in Mioli’s honor. They spent all day Friday together in the school library, leaning on each other and the coaching staff for support.
They had Mioli’s initials taped to the back of their shoes or scrawled on their wrist bands. Others wrote “RIP Mioli” on their shoes.
There was a brief tribute read before the moment of silence, and some of the players seemed to get a little emotional when the announcer talked about how Mioli preached family and this team was family.
“We really wanted to make today as normal as possible,” said Park Ridge athletic director Chris Brown. “We’re hoping this is part of the healing process. Hopefully, this is the first step on the way back to normalcy.”
As the game ended, Mioli’s traditional celebratory song, Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son”, began blaring over the loudspeakers, and the players began jumping around and extending their index fingers to the sky as some yelled, “For Coach!” They even posed for a team photo, savoring the moment as if it were a playoff victory.
“He was on our mind for every play,” said junior quarterback Evan Matthews. “Every play was for him, and will be all year.”
Park Ridge did not charge admission to the game, instead asking fans to make a donation to the Mioli family.
Mioli’s widow, Patty, was at the game and spoke to the players in the locker room afterward. The Park Ridge staff requested privacy for that part of the evening, when they presented her with the game ball.
“The hardest part for me today was the first time I looked for Gary and realized he wasn’t there,” said Brown. “That part was really tough.
“And I’ve already thought about what it’s going to be like tomorrow when I want to call and talk about the game. I won’t be able to do that, and that’s the worst part.”
SERVICES: Mioli’s wake will be held today at the Barrett Funeral Home, 148 Dean Drive, Tenafly. Visiting hours are 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Therese Roman Catholic Church in Cresskill. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.