Bleeding Blue and White by Katie Blitz (from MaxPreps – May 2011)
A football team that has been around for almost 100 years has plenty of traditions and stories. With only five coaches in these years, it is easy to see how a team like this would be considered a family. Former players are always coming back to Tech – hoping to coach, and mentor the new players.
The History of Brooklyn Tech (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Football began in the 1920s with Coach Joe Milde. Although little information could be found about him, he coached Adam J. Cirillo, the heart and soul of Brooklyn Tech Football. Cirillo, who graduated in 1929, earned the honor of All-City Defensive End, and went on to play for Lafayette College. At Lafayette, he majored in Civil Engineering and became the captain during the 1932 season. Although records from his time at Lafayette are mostly unavailable, it is said that he was voted to an All-American team by some publications. Due to the Great Depression, football was not played at Tech during this time.
In 1939, Cirillo came back to Tech and became the head coach. He won City Championships in 1943, 1946, 1947 and 1948. He brought innovation to city football by taking the team away for football camp and playing out-of-state opponents. In addition to these accomplishments, Cirillo was also an entrepreneur. He opened a store just down the street from Brooklyn Tech HS that still stands today, Brooklyn Sporting Goods Co.
Adam Cirillo used football “as a means to an end” to send his players to college. In order to do this, he kept in contact with many coaches. He was a friend to both renowned Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno and the late legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi. Some of Lombardi’s practices can be witnessed throughout Tech History. For instance, Lombardi time – the idea that one should arrive 10-15 minutes early or else he would be considered late is one practice that the players to this day adhere to.
During these early years, Tech used a no-spread offense. This changed at Tech once Vince Lombardi joined the Green Bay Packers. Within Lombardi’s first year at Green Bay, Tech adopted a new offensive scheme that is still used by Tech to this day – known as the “Lombardi sweep” in the NFL – a simple yet practical play.
Lombardi and Cirillo believed in supporting their players as long as they tried their hardest. This ideology is consistent throughout Tech History.
One of the things Cirillo was most known for was the fact that “he couldn’t get anyone’s name right, even if your name was Smith,” remembers alumnus Joe Pangia, who played for Cirillo and is an assistant coach today. He has coached under every head coach at Tech with the exception of Milde. Pangia says that this characteristic was not only due to Cirillo’s bad memory, but also for comic relief and to break tension. He would often create nicknames based on certain characteristics or stories.
Cirillo’s on-field successes continued in the ‘50s, with another three consecutive City Championships beginning in 1955. Once again, Cirillo managed to wow spectators with his final official championships in 1960 and 1961. Due to PSAL changes there were no championships held in the late 1960s, but Tech was known as the “mythical City Champions.” After the 1969 season, Adam Cirillo retired from the head coaching position, but he continued as an assistant coach. He passed away in 1982, but his legacy lives on, annually at the homecoming as well as a scholarship awarded in his name, which started in 1968 and is given to one or two students a year. This scholarship was once $25, but is now $25,000.
During the 1960’s, Joe Cuzzocrea became the coach of the Junior Varsity. He was only given a rag with a knot tied in it to be used as a football during practice. He had his work cut out for him. Cuzzocrea also took over the store that Cirillo started and subsequently passed it on to his son Joe Cuzzocrea, who still owns it. In 1972, Coach Cuzzocrea took the Varsity team to the City Championships. This game is often considered to be one of the most controversial in PSAL history. The game had been tied at the end of regulation. Overtime was played according to NFL rules – sudden death. Tech had the ball and hoped to end the game on this drive. During a pass play, there was a simultaneous catch – two sets of hands, one from each team, had control of the ball. According to NFL rules, in this situation, the offense is granted the ball. However the ball was granted to Far Rockaway, which led them to the winning drive. When Cuzzocrea retired, he was given an honorary Tech diploma for his success and dedication to the team.
During the 1984 season, Tech had the pleasure of having alumnus Jim DiBenedetto return to the coaching staff as an assistant. He was on the football team that the transition between Coach Cirillo and Coach Cuzzocrea. DiBenedetto was previously the Head Coach at New York Institute of Technology. In 1987, when Cuzzocrea retired, DiBenedetto became the new Head Coach. Like his predecessors, he continued Tech’s winning tradition. The 1989 team was the Brooklyn Champions. They went to the semi-finals against Susan Wagner HS where Tech lost 30-18. Herve Damas, a Tech linebacker from that year, went on to play for Hofstra University and the Buffalo Bills.
Coach Jerome Brown was Head Coach for the 1993 and 1994 seasons, until Coach DiBenedetto returned in 1995.
In 1995, the team won the Brooklyn Championship again. In this game, they had to play at Canarsie who hadn’t lost at home in over ten years. Tech was losing in the fourth quarter, but Randall Joseph ran for a 90-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the game, which allowed Tech to win. He later went on to Colgate and ran for over 3500 yards. Between the two teams, nine players in this game were granted full-football scholarships, proving the high caliber of players in the game. Tech linebacker Roger Knight went on to the University of Wisconsin and later played for the New Orleans Saints.
DiBenedetto recalls the 1998 team, “not having a lineman over 200 pounds.” This is a feat considering most high school lineman are at the very least 200 pounds, but often 250 pounds or more. Tech won 24-8 in the quarterfinals at Wagner, who had never in their history lost a home playoff game. They went on to the semi-finals where All-State QB Keron Henry threw a pass into the end zone, which was dropped. Henry would go to UConn, where he would transition to wide receiver, where he became ninth in school history for receiving yards in a season. He then went on to the NFL.
In 2001, Tech and DiBenedetto was the first team to use Tech’s own home field. During the previous years, Tech never had a home field – nor a practice field, which shows how innovative and dedicated Tech players have been over their history.
DiBenedetto recalls one of his favorite teams, the class of 2003, “They were not the biggest nor the fastest, but they were hardworking and talented.” This class was a perfect example of Tech tradition. “They lose a game, and next week try twice as hard.” This describes not only the 2003 team, but also all Tech Football teams, according to DiBenedetto. The 2003 team unexpectedly beat the State Champions on Opening Day. They also won the Brooklyn Division, but were upset in the quarterfinals. Brian Tracy, the team captain, went on to Rutgers. Although on the team, Tracy was slower and shorter then the rest of the Rutgers team; he was never cut due to the fact that he was a leader and an inspiration to the other players. In the last game of the season in his senior year, and his first game in college, Tracy got to play the entire second half, because of his dedication to the Rutgers team.
DiBenedetto retired in 2008, leaving behind a triumphant legacy just like the coaches before him. In his 21 years as a coach, all of his players went to college. He then had the opportunity to be on a committee to choose the next coach, who would have the chance to hopefully leave a lasting legacy on players like his predecessors. Kyle McKenna, a native of Long Island, a football player and graduate of Boston University and assistant coach at Grand Street Campus, was the committee’s selection to become the next Tech Head Coach. Also on this committee was Pat Cuzzocrea – the daughter of Adam Cirillo, and wife of Coach Cuzzocrea. She was impressed that McKenna did his homework, researching the traditions and legacy of Tech Football. McKenna has led the team to an 11-7 record, and three playoff games over two seasons., and DiBenedetto is now the school’s Athletic Director and has continued his role as Choral Director.
One of the most exciting games in Brooklyn Tech history occurred in Coach McKenna’s second season.Tech had to face Jefferson High School for the first game of the 2010 playoffs. The players and coaches were excited, because they were seeking revenge. They had lost to Jefferson in their Annual Homecoming Adam J. Cirillo Classic game a month earlier, a heart-breaking 40-38 defeat. In the playoff game, Tech was leading until late in the fourth quarter when Jefferson scored a touchdown to tie it up. Tech stopped Jefferson’s 2-point conversion attempt, which led the game into NCAA-rules overtime, where both teams are given an opportunity to score.
In the first overtime, both teams scored. In the second overtime, Jefferson scored first, but again did not complete the 2-point conversion. When Tech got the ball, they were quickly left with the daunting fourth down with a distant 18 yards to go. Kevi Shyti threw a 16-yard pass to Babatunde Adeyemi. 16 yards would not be enough. Adeyemi, while being tackled, persevered to get those two needed yards. James Gales scored the touchdown later in the series. If Tech scored the 2-point conversion, the game would be over. They did, and they were able to avenge the heartbreaking loss, in one of Brooklyn Tech’s most memorable games. Alumni player and coach, Joe Pangia says that this was what he likes to call a “‘Generational Game’ because they only happen once-in-a-generation.”
McKenna has not only continued Tech tradition in the winning-style, but he has also continued Tech traditions like sending players to college, wearing shoelaces the opposing team’s colors and the pre-game meditation. But he has also come up with some innovations like the position of Sports Information Director – hoping to change some perceptions – such as Tech being just an academic school, as anyone who attends the school will gladly attest that it is much more than that.
McKenna has had a good start to his early career at Tech, but if he hopes to have the legacy of his forerunners, he has a lot to accomplish. He has a lot of support behind him though, and he has been accepted into the Brooklyn Tech family. Still, the team has not won a City Championship in over 40 years. Everyone on this team – past and present – thinks McKenna can do it.