DANVERS, Mass. –- It’s hard to focus on anything right now in Danvers, following such unspeakable tragedy earlier this week. But tonight’s football contest at Danvers High, part of Homecoming festivities, could at least make some forget for a while.
Four days after the body of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer was found behind school property, the victim of alleged murder, the host Danvers Falcons (6-1) triumphed over Winthrop (3-4), 39-27.
“I was proud of them, they responded better than any team could with the task at hand that they had," Danvers coach Sean Rogers said. "They did a good job of focusing on football and using to escape from something most kids don’t have to endure. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys, every day they surprise me with their composure, their maturity.
“They’re my saviors, it makes it a lot easier to come in, see them, and they support me more than I could imagine. They’re a great group of kids.”
Admission to Saturday’s game was free, but Winthrop High School set out water jugs so that they could take donations for the Colleen Ritzer scholarship fund, a scholarship named in her honor for future Danvers students. Anyone who donated was given a light blue helmet sticker to wear in Ritzer’s honor during the game, the same stickers that the Danvers players wore on their helmets.
Winthrop cheerleaders released balloons before the game started, followed by a moment of silence for Ritzer.
“[Winthrop] were great with support, giving us the 50/50 with the free gates—they allowed our fans to come in and support us in a time of need like this,” Rogers said.
The Falcons football squad was all business before, during, and after the game, huddling quickly as a team after the game before departing from the cold, windy field. Rogers was, of course, happy his team was able to pick up the win, but he was even prouder of the way the team was able to bring some excitement in the town’s time of need.
“I thought our guys did a phenomenal job, better than I could have never expected of focusing for the two hours they had to focus after what has happened,” Rogers said. “We kept talking to them as using football as an escape and controlling their emotions, I was really happy about how well they did that.”
Senior tailback Alex Valles led the way for the Falcons, totaling 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Chris Behen gave them a boost in the kicking game with a kickoff return for a touchdown.