Brian Brennan could no longer contain his tears.
About halfway through his speech Saturday night at. St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows at the schools annual football dinner, the older brother of Michael Brennan, a firefighter from Woodside and former St. Francis Prep football player who was killed during the attacks of Sept. 11, paused to hold back his grief. And the more than 400 people in attendance responded with a rousing ovation.
After Mike graduated he attended college for a while, Brian Brennan said, hesitating for a moment before breaking down, but had his eyes on his lifelong dream. That was to be a New York City firefighter.
St. Francis Prep lost 19 alumni on Sept. 11, including 12 firefighters.
Brian Brennan and his family, along with the family of Capt. Timothy Stackpole, came to the Fresh Meadows school to take part in the retiring of the numbers both men wore while playing football for the Terriers. It is an honor bestowed on only four others in the schools history and an act that teacher and football moderator Joseph Licata said he felt the school should perform in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Michael Brennan, who was 27 when he was killed, attended St. Francis from 1987 through 1991 and was working with Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 4 Battalion 9, when he responded to the call that fateful Tuesday. Fifteen members of his house were lost. Stackpole, a captain with Division 11, was 42 and attended the school from 1974 through 1978. His body was found six days later.
Right before Thanksgiving I sent out a letter to the two brothers of both of the firemen and asked them for permission to do this, Licata said. They both called back and said absolutely. That got us started.
We wanted to make it a memorial to the firefighters, but we also wanted to show the football players now how important it is to have morals and have standards and know exactly what you want to do with your life and to be the kind of person these people were, Licata said. They dedicated themselves to their jobs and the people of New York City. Its important that they keep that example.
The day started with a mass held in the schools auditorium before the crowd of family members, firemen, current football players and cheerleaders adjourned to the cafeteria for a moving ceremony to honor the two fallen alums.
This years varsity team captains, Chris Zambrano, Richard Magliore and Eric Maiorino, presented Stackpoles wife, Tara, and their five children with his jersey, No. 32, while Michael Brennans No. 19 jersey was given to his mother, Eileen Walsh.
Brian Brennan stressed how important St. Francis Prep and football was to his brother during his emotional speech after the presentation of the jerseys.
I was so happy and proud that Mike had the opportunity to fulfill his dream and play here, he said. I was happy to know that the values instilled in us at home were reinforced and enhanced as a teenage student here and as a member of the St. Francis Prep football team. Qualities such as pride, dedication, commitment, integrity, tradition and most of all family.
He didnt work as a firefighter, he lived as a firefighter, Brennan added. On Sept. 11 2001, my brother Mike and Capt. Stackpole faced adversity the only way they knew how to: head on. The playing field was much larger. It was no longer Cunningham Park, it was the streets of New York City.
The team he played on now was the Fire Department of New York, a team that had the same qualities instilled in us at home in our youth, reinforced here at St. Francis, a team that epitomized tradition, pride, integrity, dedication and most of all family.
Stackpole had only recently rejoined the Fire Department after being severely burned over 30 percent of his body in a East New York blaze in June 1998 He was promoted to captain in early September and had just finished his tour of duty when the call came in that the Twin Towers had been struck.
He was 110 percent about everything, said Mike Stackpole, Tims younger brother and a fireman himself. He didnt know any other way. He was that type of guy. Timmy wasnt the best football player by any means, but he was the hardest worker.
Vince OConnor, in his 48th year as head coach of the St. Francis football team, remembered his players as two extraordinary young men who have left an indelible impression on their school by their sacrifice.
I think they left us a tremendous note about what character is all about, OConnor said.
Licata, who served as master of ceremonies, also recalled both Brennan and Stackpole as standout members of the St. Francis Prep family.
I knew them both, Licata said. They were both fantastic people. They would give everything they had. They would work constantly. They would never give up. They were total team players.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2002 Community News Group
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