Holy Trinity football coaches and athletic officials met with an emotional team Friday morning, after an overnight fire destroyed much of the team’s equipment.
The fire, which investigators believe to be arson, came the day before the merged team’s first playoff game.
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons Athletic Director Patrick Moran said the team was determined to move forward.
Moran’s school is one of two that makes up Holy Trinity’s roster. Troy’s Central Catholic is the other.
“It’s something that I don’t think they’ve ever had to experience, nor do they know how to, but we’re trying to stay together as much as a family and community,” Moran said Friday morning. “It’s a minute-by-minute kind of thing.”
As for Saturday afternoon’s playoff game at Hoosic Valley, the fire will not impact that.
“We’re playing,” Moran said. “We play at 1:30 at Hoosic Valley. We’re not going to let something like this stop us.”
Firefighters were called to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School just after 2 a.m. for heavy smoke. They arrived to find the field house behind the school on fire.
Firefighters soon doused the flames but discovered all the Holy Trinity's football equipment destroyed, from helmets to cleats, police spokesman Sgt. Matthew Dearing said.
Police and the local arson task force believe someone broke into the building and intentionally set it on fire, Dearing said. No arrests have been made.
Holy Trinity is a joint football team comprised of students from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and Troy's Catholic Central. The two individual programs merged in 2014 to form the Holy Trinity team.
Representatives of the team are now working with other schools in the area to get enough donated equipment to play.
The merged team's Saturday game will be its first playoff game.
High schools and colleges around the region immediately reached out to Holy Trinity to offer support and assistance.
Holy Trinity lost nearly everything in the fire, Moran said. The team even lost coach John Barber’s handmade lockers, Moran said.
Among the schools offering assistance have been Schenectady and the University at Albany.
Holy Trinity quarterback Joey Tortello was at the burned field house late Friday morning with some teammates. He recalled the shock of hearing about the fire from his parents.
“Why would anyone want to do something like this?” said Tortello, a 9th-grader who started five games this year before breaking a finger. “How could it happen? I just couldn’t believe it.”
The field house, he said, was the team’s home. That’s where the team hung out after school and before practice.
Now, there’s basically nothing left. “That was our life in there,” he said.
As for Saturday’s playoff game, Tortello said he expects the team to be ready.
“We don’t care what uniforms we’re in, what we’re wearing,” he said. “We’re still going to come out and try to win tomorrow’s game.”
“All the schools of Section II are stepping up -- offers of shoulder pads, helmets,” said Schenectady High School Athletic Director Steve Boynton. “It’s a community both in Schenectady and a football community. I’m sure they’re going to have everything they need, because there’s a lot of people stepping up.”
On the college level, the University at Albany has asked the NCAA for a waiver to loan any equipment still needed to help the team, the university said in a prepared statement.
“Football is such an important part of our community, and to see the devastation that this fire has caused, we wanted to find a way to help,” UAlbany head football coach Greg Gattuso said in a prepared statement.
Holy Trinity has also been getting help from companies, including Stadium Systems, a team outfitter. They were expected to be at the school Friday afternoon to help fit the students for helmets, Moran said.
The schools are also working on uniforms. The exact look, however, wasn’t known Friday morning.
“Will they match? I don’t know,” Moran said. “But the kids will have something on.”
He also thanked all the schools and individuals for reaching out. He said he hasn’t come close to being able to return all the calls of support he’s been getting.
As far as getting the kids ready to play, that’s another task, Moran said.
“I have a lot of faith in my coaching staff,” he said. “They are more than capable of getting these kids ready to go emotionally, mentally and physically.
“It’s tough to describe, but they’ve always acted as a family,” he added.
Inside the field house
Hoosic Valley Superintendent Amy Goodell said the district’s coaches, athletic director and she had talked Friday with their counterparts at Bishop Gibbons and the Holy Trinity teams, offering their support.
The school, Trinity’s opponent in Saturday’s game, offered any spare equipment - another in a long line of offers the team received Friday.
“Everyone really wants to support them, and we are very sorry to hear; it’s just devastating,” Goodell said. “We stand together as a community.”
She also said Hoosic Valley had not been contacted by fire investigators.
Coach Barber said he is going to try to keep the team's preparation as normal as possible, under the circumstances.
His players, he said, are doing everything they can, too.
“I couldn’t be more blessed with the group of kids I work with,” Barber said, getting emotional.
The team includes 46 players, 30 of whom will be dressed for the varsity playoff game. The junior varsity team plays Monday, provided that uniforms are available by then.
The field house, Barber said, served as his team’s home away from home -- his home away from home.
It not only housed physical equipment but a lot of work and personal items that can’t be replaced.
The school got a grant in 2013 to purchase weight training equipment. The grant also helped them build lockers -- 50 of them.
“That’s where they went in and started the fire,” Barber said. “We’ve been violated. I’ve been violated. The kids have been violated.”
But the team will also make it work, he said.
“We’ll keep fighting through. I want to play right now, to be honest with you,” Barber said. “We’ll get some anger out tomorrow.”
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons Principal Peter Fusco said the school is still working out insurance details, noting the personal items that can’t be replaced.
With the fire, though, also come some lessons, Fusco said: one about coming back from adversity, one about the negatives of the world and one about the positives.
“Nobody’s going to learn anything by sitting back and saying, ‘Woe is me,’” Fusco said. “What you’re going to learn from is being able to pull your bootstraps up and march forward and become stronger from a bad situation.”
As far as the positives, Fusco said, “We’re seeing that with the support that we’ve received.”
A GoFundMe page set up late Friday morning to benefit the team had garnered nearly $9,000 in donations by 1:40 p.m., about three hours after it was created.
Many of those who donated also offered words of support.
"Our NDBG education and family taught us to love and help one another!" one donor wrote.
Fusco said there are immediate needs to tend to and long-term ones over how to rebuild.
The focus now is on the immediate need of Saturday’s game.
“More than anything, is I want to see these kids on the field,” Fusco said. “I want to see Coach Barber coach these players and them come out and do what they do.”
As for the game, Barber said his team is going to play.
“They’re going to give everything they have,” Barber said. “Hoosic Valley is a very strong opponent. But we’re going to go out and put everything we have on the field and have no regrets.”