This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published December 13, 2018
Anthony Bello knew that he wasn’t going to play a single snap for the North Haven football team as a senior after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing lacrosse last spring. Still, Anthony wanted to remain a part of the squad by lending any support he could to a group of teammates that he grew up with on the gridiron. One of the ways Anthony did that was showing up every day and providing great senior leadership. However, Anthony also ventured into unprecedented territory when he took on the responsibility of controlling a drone that filmed North Haven’s practices from high in the sky.
Anthony started playing football in North Haven when he was in 4th grade. He joined the high school program as a freshman and worked his way up the ranks, primarily playing wingback and inside linebacker for the JV team during a junior season that saw him get a bit of varsity time.
Anthony also made his varsity debut as a midfielder/face-off specialist with North Haven boys’ lacrosse in his junior year. Unfortunately, in late April, Anthony tore both his left ACL and meniscus during a non-contact drill, abruptly ending his season. After having surgery and going through physical therapy, Anthony was back on his feet by July, but with a long recovery timetable in front of him, there was no chance for the senior to compete for Head Coach Anthony Sagnella’s squad this fall.
“It was rough. I took it hard at first, but my parents told me that everything happens for a reason, and that made me feel better. I went to Coach Sagnella and told him the news, and then the first thing I said was, ‘How can I still be part of the team?’ Anthony says. “But I didn’t just want to show up at practice and watch. I wanted to be a special part of the team and know that I was helping the team improve.”
Anthony established that he was going to be a regular presence by signing up for the football team’s early morning offseason workouts. Anthony prides himself on being in tip-top physical condition, and he strengthened both his upper body, as well as his bonds with his teammates, by lifting weights with them throughout the summer.
On the first day of fall practice, Anthony learned that Coach Sagnella was entrusting him with a new and unique role. Instead of filming their practices from the end zone as in past years, the Indians were going to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—more commonly known as a drone—to capture what happened at practice this season. Sagnella wanted Anthony to handle the task of manning the drone, and Anthony was more than happy to step into that role.
“They told me, ‘This is going to be your job,’ and I said, ‘Perfect.’ It’s something I wanted to do,” says Anthony. “I wanted the team to get better because of me. I wanted to be a key part of the program. I would have taken helping the freshman team. I would have taken being a water boy. I wanted something to keep me active, and I wanted to keep the structure that I’ve had the last four years. So, I would go to practice and set up the drone.”
North Haven became one of the first high school football teams in Connecticut to use a drone to film its practices. Anthony carried the three-pound, 16-by-16-inch drone in a briefcase, stored it in the locker room at school and, after practice, would take it home to recharge it. At practice, Anthony used a remote joystick to fly the drone, sometimes sending it in upwards of 1,500 feet to get a bird’s-eye view of North Haven’s plays, while other times zooming in to focus on a specific aspect of a given play. By downloading an app onto his phone, Anthony could see everything the drone was filming right in the palm of his hand. The drone was equipped with a Secure Digital (SD) card that stored all the footage, after which Anthony would put it online for the Indians’ players and coaches to view.
“The first time I used the drone, I moved with it so slowly and was hesitant to move it to different areas. But by around the third practice, I got the hang of it and, as the season progressed, I would be flying around with it like it was my professional job,” Anthony says. “Every day, I progressed. I was able to fly the drone better and faster and get in closer without risking anything. I was able to get every single player in the shot every play at practice, which we wouldn’t have been able to do with the end-zone camera. It made me happy to know that I was making the team better and was still a part of the team.”
Coach Sagnella was glad that Anthony remained a fixture with the Indians, especially since he knew how difficult it was for the senior to spend his final season on the sidelines. Sagnella was also impressed how quickly Anthony got up to speed with his new piece of technology to give North Haven a crystal-clear picture of its practice reps.
“You give so much to the program that, when it gets taken away from you, it’s a major setback. For some kids, it’s too painful for them to be around it, knowing they can’t play. But Anthony needed to stay involved, he wanted to be around his teammates, so we had to find a role for him that was meaningful, and he jumped at it,” Sagnella says. “The drone is superior to anything we’ve ever used, because you can maneuver it wherever you want in the middle of a drill, and Anthony’s ability to use that technology gave us an advantage in terms of teaching. All the coaches knew how important that footage was, and that we couldn’t do it without Anthony. We needed him.”
North Haven’s preparation paid off when the whistle blew on Friday nights. With an inexperienced varsity roster, the team finished the regular season with a record of 8-2 to qualify for the State Playoffs for the eighth time in 12 years. It means the world to Anthony that the Indians continued solidifying their reputation as a top-tier program by putting together another successful campaign. Anthony believes that playing football for North Haven is an invaluable experience that simply can’t be replaced, and he gained an even deeper appreciation for the team after seeing the dedication of the Indians’ coaches on an up-close-and-personal basis this season.
“I was able to see what goes into the program. For people to volunteer their time and put in that amount of effort like some of our coaches have been for 20 years is incredible. That’s what I said in my senior speech. I told all the guys that you have to cherish what is in front of you. Every one of our coaches is a father figure that teaches us something new each day and helps send us on the right path,” says Anthony. “You can’t get anything better than this. North Haven football is extremely special, and nothing can top it. I’d rather be a part of North Haven football than win the lotto.”
As it turns out, Anthony did win, even though he didn’t play. Anthony not only made a big-time contribution to his hometown football team this fall, he also learned a lesson about the mentality that’s needed to overcome adversity, both on the field and beyond.
“The one word I would use is resiliency. You have to be resilient to push through each wall in the game of football and to go through every hardship in life,” Anthony says. “I was able to bounce back mentally from the fact that I couldn’t play. That just made me more mature, and I learned more about myself by sticking with it. I went from being a North Haven football player to being a man.”