Sporting their new helmets and shoulder pads, the Cardinal O'Hara High School football team lined up for practice and took their cues from Coach Shaquille Dudley, as assistant Coach Lewis Hawkins helped with the linemen. Dudley and Hawkins worked to win a grant from Riddell, a longtime football equipment manufacturer and the Peyton Manning 2019 Smarter Football Grant Foundation.
The Hawks football program received a $10,000 grant to use towards new equipment including head protection equipped with Riddell's smart helmet technology - "RiddellInSite." As part of their exclusive recognition, Riddell's Brand Ambassador and Strategic Advisor Peyton Manning prepared a special message for Cardinal O'Hara High School that was shared on YouTube.
Cardinal O'Hara is the only Catholic school, the only school in New York state, and one of only 10 schools nationally to win this award that 800 schools vied for.
Dudley said about receiving the grant, "I applied for the equipment grant back in the spring. They where going to announce the winners in August. August had passed and I thought we missed out on the opportunity. So, I reached out to Riddell, asking what would I need to do to make sure we have a better chance next year. They reached out to me saying they had not chosen the winners yet and would be releasing the information next week. The beginning of the week came and I received the email with the video from Peyton Manning."
Dudley said he was astonished when he saw the video. An equipment catalogue soon followed featuring helmets, shoulder pads and tackle dummies.
The Tonawanda school's athletic department has an emphasis on commitment service, hosting football clinics that teach advanced and safe techniques, coaching and refereeing youth flag football, and in general helping out in the school community.
"Those things were the topics of the essay I submitted for the grant," Dudley explained. "It was a great experience and sharing that information with Riddell and then them announcing us as winners was amazing. It affirmed some of the values we try to teach here at Cardinal O'Hara. We purchased new matte black Revo speed flex helmets, shoulder pads, padded shirts, and pads for pants and it was delivered in two weeks. We came out this past Friday in our new gear in our game versus Bishop Timon and played the most spirited game of the season. Although a loss, it was something we can build off of."
Longtime Cardinal O'Hara High School athletic director Angelo Sciandra said, "We feel blessed that our players are wearing the best equipment, especially the helmets. The players were excited and thankful last week when they were issued their new equipment. Also the school would like to thank Coach Shaq for writing the grant and Peyton Manning for choosing Cardinal O'Hara to receive the grant."
Cardinal O'Hara parent Karen Torrie, who's son Sam is a Hawks lineman, said, "(Sam) has been playing football since he was 7 years old. It is a rough sport and it gives me and other parents peace of mind knowing that the kids are playing with state of the art helmets and equipment."
Pride throughout the school, not just in the sports department, in response to receiving the grant rippled throughout the entire student body, as well as the school administration.
"Cardinal O'Hara High School is blessed to have Mr. Shaquille Dudley as our head football coach," said Principal Mary Holzerland with great pride. "This dedicated coach, and Cardinal O'Hara alum and football player during his four years at the school, works tirelessly to seek out opportunities that will enhance the football program for our athletes.
"The extremely generous Riddell Equipment Grant is one example of his efforts on behalf of our student athletes. This grant has helped to provide our players with the most up-to-date equipment with current safety technology-based features, including our new, safety enhanced, black helmets, with the gold O'Hara Hawk emblazoned on it.
"Through the grant, we were also able to purchase the Riddell Alert Monitor which is a feature that measures the intensity of hits made on a player, which, in turn, allows the coaches and trainer to identify the possibility of concussions. The football program at Cardinal O'Hara has been provided these, and many other athletic items, through the Riddell Grant makes the game of football safer for all players at our school. We are extremely grateful to the Riddlell Company, as well as to Mr. Peyton Manning for their generosity and support of our football program."