North Haven Football’s Spring Brawl Supports Nate Gagne
For the town of North Haven, the football team’s annual Spring Brawl fundraiser has become a way for people in the community to give back to someone in need. This year, while pushing through numerous obstacles, North Haven succeeded in its goal by raising nearly $20,000 to support three year-old Nate Gagne.
Gagne, the son of Laura and Scott Gagne, is battling cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that primarily affects the lungs and can result in difficulty breathing. Scott Gagne is a 2002 North Haven graduate and still lives in town with his family. North Haven Head Coach Anthony Sagnella remembered him from when Scott was a student. When Sagnella and his coaching staff heard about Nate, they decided that the Gagne family would be the recipients of the proceeds from this year’s Spring Brawl.
There were some tears for Scott and Laura Gagne when they heard the news. Scott said that North Haven didn’t have a way to support the community like this when he was in high school. To watch the town band together to help their son Nate showed just how much everyone in the community cares about one another.
“When we first got the call from Coach Sagnella, me and my wife Laura didn’t know what to say. Then came some questions and a couple tears,” Scott Gagne said. “Nate loved going to the high school and meeting the coaches and seniors. Seeing the community come together and volunteer their time for the North Haven football team and our son means the world to us.”
This year’s Spring Brawl marked the 18th time that North Haven has hosted the event, although it was much different than in previous years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) canceled spring football. Consequently, Coach Sagnella and North Haven Athletic Director Steve Blumenthal met with the CIAC to figure out how they could put on the Spring Brawl this year.
Their answer was that the school could not hold practices and North Haven could not wear the Nighthawks’ decal on their jerseys. To solve the jersey problem, Ranfone Training Systems in Hamden donated jerseys for the entire team.
In order to help train the players, the North Haven Youth Football program stepped up to lend a hand. Youth coaches held a three-day camp with North Haven’s coaches to learn how they train their players. From there, the youth coaches held a camp to help get the players up to speed.
Sal DeMaio is the president of North Haven Youth Football. When Sagnella reached out to the league, DeMaio said that everyone on the board was in agreement that they would do everything they could to help. They purchased insurance for all the players and worked with parents and others, such as the North Haven Fire Department, to help set up concessions for the game.
As he helped put together the Spring Brawl, DeMaio began to see how much the event means to the town of North Haven. While there may be a football game taking place, DeMaio said that everyone understood that the Spring Brawl is much more than just a sporting event.
“As Coach Sagnella says a lot, the game isn’t really about football. It has turned into so much more. It’s something that helps tie the community together,” said DeMaio. “The kids go out there and raise a ton of money. It really shows that it’s bigger than the sport. I don’t know many other sports that do something like this. Our turnout shows our community is really involved. It was an awesome experience to witness and be a part of.”
The 2022 Spring Brawl was held on June 10. While the game typically takes place at Vanacore Field, due to remodeling, this year’s game was played on the turf field at North Haven Middle School. As was the case in past years, the players who competed in the game were split up into two teams, Maroon and White. Both teams were coached by the graduating seniors in the North Haven football program.
Team White was coached by MJ DeVilliers, Sebastian Derubeis, Stephen DiCristina, Jake Langner, Jimmy Gough, and Leo Kattis. The coaches for Team Maroon were Matt Dodge, Brendan Jooss, Anthony Cavaliere, Luca Boyle, Matt Cocco, Kieran Kelly, and Cole DeCusati.
Team White came away with a 12-8 victory in this year’s Spring Brawl. Jeffrey Karavas, one of next season’s senior captains, was among athletes who played in the game. Karavas will be sharing the captain’s duties with Michael Masto, Brian Lastomirsky, and Salvatore DeMaio, who is Sal DeMaio’s son.
Karavas said that he enjoyed preparing for the game alongside youth coaches who had previously worked with members of the team. He added that it was fun being coached by his former teammates. However, more than anything else, Karavas and his teammates enjoyed meeting Nate Gagne and felt honored to support him in any way they could.
“It was awesome. It was great helping out Nate Gagne and learning more about who he was. He has so much energy. He was always running around. It was great talking to him and throwing the football with him. He was running around, having a fun time,” Karavas said. “The community all came together to support him. We raised almost $20,000 for him. It was great getting together with the community and helping Nate.”
The Spring Brawl was originally conceived by Coach Sagnella and two 2004 graduates, Teddy Keyes and Charles Reither, as a way to make spring football more fun. Over time, the event grew and grew to become what it is today.
Sagnella always wanted a leadership project for the incoming seniors. With the Spring Brawl, Sagnella found a way to help grow his program, while providing the people of North Haven with an avenue to show their generosity.
“This little thing started in the locker room 20 years ago. All of a sudden, everybody in the area knows what Spring Brawl means,” said Sagnella. “I didn’t want to let it die. It became too big of a deal. It really helps our seniors give back to the community and use their football title to help somebody else. It has turned into a great thing.”
Leading up to the game, the seniors on North Haven’s 2022 team worked on getting sponsors for the event. They also went to the community, looking to get the word out and raise money for Nate and the Gagne family. At the game, North Haven’s cheerleaders and the public address announcer came out to contribute. Furthermore, all eight officials were volunteers from the town of North Haven.
After coaching and teaching in North Haven for the past 25 years, Coach Sagnella wasn’t surprised to see the impact that this year’s Spring Brawl had on the North Haven community. Despite any obstacles, numerous people from different organizations did everything they could to pitch in. All of that effort helped raise approximately $19,000 for Nate Gagne and his family, marking the highest total of any Spring Brawl in its history.
“It takes a village to build a program with all the complexity and components of football. It takes a lot of help and a lot of support. North Haven has always embraced that,” Sagnella said. “The Spring Brawl embodies that support and the enthusiasm that the town has, not only for football, but for doing something good.
“They come together for a worthy cause,” he continued. “It never ceases to amaze me how generous people are. The centerpiece of everything was three year-old Nathan.”