North Haven Football Supports Zak Radziunas at 15th Annual Spring Brawl
The North Haven High School football team hosted the 15th annual Spring Brawl at Vanacore Field on June 21. The game was held in support of 15 year-old town residnt Zak Radziunas in his fight against leukemia. Pictured are Radziunas’s father Gregg with Radzinuas and North Haven football Head Coach Anthony Sagnella. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Incoming senior Jaden Watson talks with Zak Radziunas following the Indians’ 15th annual Spring Brawl fundraiser that took place on June 21. Pictured on the right is Radziunas’s father Gregg. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Team White earned a 20-12 win against Team Maroon when the Spring Brawl was held at Vanacore Field last week. Here, Watson sprints toward the end zone to score one of his two touchdowns for Team White on the evening. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Zak Radziunas felt humbled when he found out that the North Haven football program was going to support him at the team’s annual Spring Brawl fundraiser. Radziunas, a 15 year-old North Haven resident, has an extremely rare form of leukemia—so rare that he’s the only person in the world who has it, and it does not even have a name. When the Indians’ athletes and Head Coach Anthony Sagnella heard about Radziunas’s battle, they wanted to do everything they could to help him as he goes through the remission phase of the disease. On June 21, North Haven’s 15th annual Spring Brawl was held in support of Radziunas at Vanacore Field.
“They could have chosen anyone, and they chose me. I was very humbled by that,” Radziunas said. “They didn’t have to do it. It was out of the kindness of their heart that they chose me, and I am very happy about that.”
Radziunas was diagnosed with leukemia last August. He started undergoing in chemotherapy multiple times a week, and the disease went into remission in November. Radziunas continues to go to chemotherapy treatment once a month. While he wasn’t able to physically attend North Haven High School, Radziunas completed his freshman year with the help of a home tutor. A lifelong basketball player, Radziunas is hoping to attend North Haven as a sophomore and ultimately play for the boys’ basketball team.
The North Haven football team has been hosting the Spring Brawl for the past 15 years. In each of the last nine years, the event has served as a fundraiser to assist a local person or charity in need of support. The Spring Brawl is organized by North Haven’s incoming senior athletes, who compete against each other in an intra-squad scrimmage that’s coached by the graduating seniors. All the proceeds from the event will go to Radziunas and his family to help defray the costs of his treatment.
Radziunas met North Haven’s athletes when the Indians held a draft that determined who would play for each team at the Spring Brawl. Joe Vitale, who is one of North Haven’s senior captains for the 2019 season, said that Radziunas and his father Gregg became fixtures in the Indians’ family within a matter of minutes.
“We got to know Zak’s story from his perspective, and he told us a bunch of stuff that gave us a genuine bond with him. Everyone on the team was immediately connected to Zak,” said Vitale. “Zak is one of the strongest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s still going through remission, but I see him at the gym with a smile on his face as he’s shooting around and trying to get better.”
Radziunas attended the Spring Brawl with his father and his sister Lexi on a beautiful evening at Vanacore Field. Prior to the game, the two of them stood at the 50-yard line for Radziunas to perform the ceremonial coin toss. It meant a lot to Radziunas that people who he hadn’t seen in nearly a year kept coming up to him to ask how he was doing.
“I was very happy that I got to see everybody,” Radziunas said. “When the intensive treatments started, I didn’t get to do a lot. So, I was really happy that I got to see a lot of friends and people who I haven’t seen in the last 10 months plus.”
While he loved reconnecting with his peers, Radziunas also enjoyed taking in the game, which saw Team White earn a 20-12 victory over Team Maroon. As he watched North Haven’s players give a top-notch effort throughout a friendly yet competitive contest, Radziunas thought about all the hard work they did in order to make this year’s Spring Brawl take shape.
“They really are a great group of guys who put in the work every day. They have a lot of respect for everyone, and you have to have a certain mentality to be like that. They were very good with putting in all the work to put this together for me,” said Radziunas. “When you meet Coach Sagnella, you can tell that he’s a really good influence who cares about everyone’s success in life.”
Sagnella has seen the Spring Brawl evolve into a major event since it started off as a simple scrimmage back in 2005. Sagnella feels proud that his athletes used their status as football players to lend a hand to Radziunas and his family. He also appreciates the great wave of support that the Spring Brawl receives from people around town.
“I really am amazed, and I really give the North Haven community credit for embracing the idea and helping it gather a lot of momentum. When you do something positive, people want to help out, and we are blessed to have so many people giving their time to turn this into a very unique function in North Haven,” Sagnella said. “I think that Zak and his family were very appreciative and felt honored to be a part of it, and that’s exactly what we want.”
Vitale said the process of organizing this year’s Spring Brawl not only helped North Haven’s players form a connection with Radziunas and his family, but also among each other as they prepare to hit the gridiron for the fall campaign.
“It meant so much for us to go out and look for ways to raise money and get people to spread the word. It was amazing to see how hard we were willing to work to reach a common goal,” said Vitale. “To see so many people from the town come around and donate to help Zak, it brings the town and the team that much closer.”
Radziunas expressed tremendous gratitude to both the football team and everyone else in North Haven for helping him stay strong in the face of an unspeakable situation. Radziunas knows that he’s living in a special town that’s filled with generous people who will always stand by his side.
“I can’t say thank you enough to the football team, the school, and all of North Haven for everything they’ve done for me. North Haven is a one-of-a-kind town,” Radziunas said. “It’s very good to know that I have people behind me who care about me and my family. It’s good emotional support and physical support.”
To make a donation in support of Radziunas, please make a check payable to North Haven High School, c/o Anthony Sagnella, with ‘Spring Brawl’ written in the memo, and mail it to 221 Elm St., North Haven, CT, 06473.
Let’s Play Some Football
Team White continued its recent trend of victories in the Spring Brawl by earning a 20-12 win in the 2019 edition of the game. Jaden Watson scored on an 82-yard touchdown run to put Team White on the board, after which Albert Hooks rushed for a 40-yard TD to make it 14-0 after the first quarter. Chase DiCarlo kicked the extra point after both scores.
In the second quarter, Noah Perillie scored on a short touchdown for Team Maroon to cut the deficit to 14-6. DiCarlo later kicked a field goal to extend Team White’s lead to 17-6 at halftime.
DiCarlo booted another field goal for a 20-6 advantage in the third quarter. Perillie ran for a short TD to make it 20-12 in the fourth quarter, but Team White was able to hang on for the victory.
From the Sidelines
This marked the ninth occasion in which the North Haven football team’s Spring Brawl scrimmage served as a fundraiser. During the past eight years, the event has raised approximately $74,000 in support of Special Olympics Connecticut, The Benhaven Group for Autism, the late Matthew Jacques, Anthony Longley, Hunter Pageau, the building of a new playground at Green Acres Elementary School, Amelia DePino, and Cameron Wilson.
The members of North Haven’s incoming senior class are captains Joe Vitale, Pat DaSilva, and Luke Maruca, along with Corey Hooks, Noah Perillie, Justin White, Max Augustine, Kyle Rollier, Joe Urtel, Jeff Williston, Carlo Frunzio, Josh Blumenthal, Kyle Maruca, Jack Priebe, Dominic Borrelli, Joe Ranciato, Frank Squeglia, and Jaden Watson.
The honorary coach for Team White was Nick Bellerose, while Corey Berrios served as the honorary coach for Team Maroon. Bellerose and Berrios are both coaches in the North Haven High School strength and conditioning program.