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Moeller: It's their time now

November 30, 2012
Cincinnati Moeller High School

By Denise Smith Amos

Few topics bring out people’s superstitions like sports.

Small wonder, then, that Moeller High School is awash in them these days.

It has been 15 years since Moeller’s football team competed in a Division 1 state title game and more than 25 since it won a state championship. It has given the game this Saturday against Toledo Whitmer in Canton an almost mythical stature – the shot at an eighth state championship.

For instance, today’s schoolwide celebration for the team will not be a pep rally, said Carl Kremer, Moeller’s dean of students. The school is nervous about such shows of hubris, he said.

“I know the football program wants to keep things on an even keel on one hand,” he said. “On the other hand, they want to celebrate it. So we’ll have a send-off. But we’re not going to call it a pep rally. We had two pep rallies before, and they both ended up with (game) losses, so we’re a little superstitious.”

Some more than a little judging from a recent video on Moeller’s website and YouTube. School staff and players confess to some unusual pregame rituals to try to buy a little luck.

A few teachers and coaches claim to wash their pants only after game successes or abstaining from haircuts until the end of the season. Others wear their “lucky shoes” or eat certain meals before each game.

One player says he downs two Mountain Dews and two Gatorades before each game. Another listens to the same songs in the same order every time.

One school staffer prays to the Virgin Mary before games – not terribly surprising about a Catholic boys school. Other pregame habits are a little less spiritual: One man carries an empty Grippo’s bag in his back pocket; two other staffers subscribe to ritual handshakes, slapping each other’s palms, linking legs and pumping fists in unison.

The funniest demonstration comes from a blue-and-gold-clad cafeteria worker claiming to serve “Cardinal carcass” sandwiches, “Crush Colerain” chili and “Crusader cookies” on game days.

Even parents and alumni observe their own pregame rituals.

“We’re all steeped in our own superstitions. Everybody has to have a certain jacket or a certain hat,” said Dominick Iacovone, father of senior quarterback Spencer Iacovone. He carries a lucky keychain with his three sons’ football numbers on it. His two eldest graduated from Moeller.

Of course, the Moeller “family” of supporters shows support in more typical ways.

The M-Fan group of alumni and parents recently refurbished Moeller’s 50-year-old locker room, donating $450,000 in cash and labor. They also restored blocking sleds and equipment, refurbished and maintained practice fields and bought a golf cart for the equipment manager.

“We have helped with baseball and other sports, too,” Iacovone said.

The group is perhaps best known for its massive tailgate parties, at home and away, which attract hundreds of fans who consume 500 or more hamburgers and hot dogs per game. The centerpiece: a Moeller-blue firetruck, a 1959 vehicle Iacovone bought and refurbished.

“We call it our mobile marketing machine, our truck and grill,” he said.

Even with such good mojo, the Crusaders can’t ignore their opponent’s record. Toledo Whitmer, ranked No. 3 in an Associated Press state poll, just beat No. 7-ranked Mentor in the semifinals, 62-34, and has a 14-0 season record.

Moeller (11-3) is unranked but won five straight games and hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in any of its postseason games.

“Everybody here has a lot of respect for Whitmer, but in our school and our traditions we have a lot of confidence. When we get competitive, we perform,” Kremer said.

Last Saturday’s game against the Pickerington North Panthers proved stressful to the last minute. Panthers’ Godwin Igwebuike was at the 1 yard line, about to score, when Moeller senior Kaleb Nypaver hit him, jarring the ball loose for a fumble. Ethan Frericks, a Moeller senior captain, recovered the ball, keeping the 26-21 win.

Moeller’s football team has a 50-year winning record. The school also won championships in baseball, rugby and volleyball, and individual titles in wrestling and swimming. Of Moeller’s 920 students about 740 are in a sport, 220 of them in football.

“We’re trying to be great at everything,” Kremer said. “It’s a nice public statement that everything is going well.”

That helps when attracting eighth-graders to the boys school. In recent years the rules changed for Cincinnati-area Catholic high schools; instead of only recruiting new students from certain “feeder” elementary schools, the high schools can market themselves everywhere.

Sports and enrollment

“Once people see how tight our community is and how big an emphasis there is on community ... that attracts people to join us, not necessarily because they want to be on the football team, but they see a real spirit and pride in the school,” said Brother Ron Luksic, admissions director.

He said other aspects of a school’s environment are just as important – academics, spiritual programming, community service – but “it’s a lot easier to get headlines for sports,” he said.

Moeller is one of a few Catholic high schools in the region bucking a national trend of declining enrollment. Its enrollment has hovered around 920 students for about 10 years, school officials said.

“A lot of our feeder schools have gone under and consolidated, but we’ve kept our numbers pretty solid,” Kremer said.

And no matter what happens Saturday, win or lose, Moeller will hold a proper pep rally on Monday, Kremer said.

“When something this big happens within our community ... the alumni will come out of the woodwork,” he said. “No matter what the outcome of the game is, it’ll be important for the school to celebrate, to get closure on it.”

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