Catholic Central adapts homecoming to COVID-19 restrictions, but keeps traditions alive in 76th annual contest, including win over Pilots

NOVI — How do you pull off a homecoming celebration the midst of a pandemic?

“The social distancing all the way through, the hand sanitizers and just being mindful — always reminding them to keep their hands clean and keep their distance,” said Fr. Patrick Fulton, CSB, principal of Novi Detroit Catholic Central. 

“We take it one day at a time, we give thanks to the Lord for what he’s given us, and we go forward.”

Even though it’s safe to say this year’s festivities were different from Catholic Central’s fall spirit weeks of the past, the Shamrocks were still able to hold a full slate of activities.

“Because of the pandemic, we’ve had to make a lot of changes, but the boys have bought into the changes, and they’ve adapted well,” Fr. Fulton said. “We saw it as an opportunity to grow together as a brotherhood.”

While some events — such as the annual Mass, sign painting, tug-of-war, the Shamrock Shuffle charity fundraiser, and a come-from-behind Boys Bowl victory — went on as expected, others were amended.

The Shamrocks celebrate their first touchdown, a 30-yard pass from quarterback Declan Byle to tight end Michael Ramirez (84).

The homecoming dance was replaced by a drive-in movie-themed “date night,” and while the state-mandated return-to-play guidelines restricted the student body from attending the Boys Bowl game inside Fr. Richard Elmer Stadium, the school set up a large video screen behind the grandstand so students could watch a live-streamed video of the game while socially distancing.

For that reason, primarily, the football against Warren De La Salle was rescheduled from Sunday afternoon to the prior evening (so students would be able to see the game images projected on the screen after dark).

“We wanted the kids to see the game, but we couldn’t let them in the stadium,” athletic director Aaron Babicz said. “We were able to do a lot of stuff in the school, the sign-painting, the spirit stuff, some special things for the kids, and we tried to keep it as normal as humanly possible. We’re just glad to be playing football at this point, so I can’t complain too much.”

Organizers set up food trucks in the parking lot near the big screen, and crowd noise and school cheers were pumped into the field through the public address system to add to the game atmosphere.

Babicz gave two motivational speeches during fall prep sports rallies Thursday and Friday — the Catholic Central students are attending school on a hybrid schedule, so half of the student body was in the building each day.

These two photos show the contrast between the Catholic Central cheering section from the 2019 Boys Bowl game – pre-pandemic – to this year’s contest, which was played with restrictions on the number of spectators allowed to attend outdoor athletic events.

“Obviously, it’s been different for us in the school,” said Mohamed Jaffer, the Shamrocks’ junior starting fullback. “The guys still hang up the banners and everything, but as the football team does every single year, we block out all the extra-curricular stuff and we focus on the game.”

It was Jaffer’s 77-yard burst with 2:50 to play that propelled Catholic Central to a 14-10 comeback victory over De La Salle in a key Catholic League Central Division clash. On second down and 4 from his own 23-yard line, Jaffer took the handoff, dashed toward the left sideline, turned the corner, and sprinted his hardest when he saw a clear path to the end zone come into focus.

“I just waited for my turn,” he said. “I saw it developing all game, I was just waiting for my time to bust it. I saw that the line crashed down, so my first move was to take it outside and I had to make one man miss. I did that, and the burners just turned on.”

“We got the blocks right and Mo just ran hard,” coach Dan Anderson said. “Mo is a great workhorse for us; he goes both ways, on defense and offense. His motor never stops. He’s one of those kids that he’s always going to go for the touchdown. He runs hard.”

Catholic Central students wait for the Boys Bowl’s opening kickoff, watching a live-stream of the game on a big screen in the parking lot behind the grandstand of Fr. Richard Elmer Stadium.

It was the only time Catholic Central led all night. Coach Dan Rohn’s Pilots scored first after taking possession of a blocked CC punt at the 13, and were in the end zone two plays later on Brett Stanley’s 8-yard run. Brady Lowe’s 28-yard field goal put De La Salle up 10-0 later in the second quarter.

That would be all the points the Shamrocks defense would allow for the rest of the night, though. Catholic Central got its first touchdown on the ensuing series when Michael Ramirez caught a pass from quarterback Declan Byle, scoring from 30 yards out.

The defenses took over in the second half, and two teams traded the ball back-and-forth constantly until Jaffer’s game-breaking play.

“At CC, we’re taught to keep fighting to the very end,” he said. “Our defensive coordinator, (Coach) Joe Mach, told us it was going to be a 48-minute street fight, and that’s exactly what it was — 14-10. It was a dogfight, but we came ready for it.”