Carmel Rams Win Football State Championship Defeating Bennett, Local Father Shares His Pride
Carmel, NY beat Section 6 champion Bennett, 42-12, in NYSPHSAA Class AA final at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
But what do I know about it? I have not been to a single game this season. We've had a lot of our Ethan and Lou Show listeners reach out and ask me to share their story, give shout-outs where they were due and we did, as often as possible.
So, when the moment came that Carmel was going to the State Championship, I knew regardless of the outcome, these kids deserved an article noting their accomplishment. But that was going to be difficult to do as I have not seen a down and have no firsthand experience with this team.
Then it hit me, there is someone just down the hall from my office who does, he's loaded with pride as a Carmel football dad and has been there the whole way. I reached out to John DiLeo (my boss) yesterday and said I'm going to suffer to come up with 250 words and throw out some empty congratulations, do you want to take a crack at it?
He agreed and this is the letter he sent me about the Carmel Rams 2021 season, his son Nicholas and the community.
The following was written by John DiLeo, father of Nicholas DiLeo who is a Carmel Rams Wide Receiver:
"On Saturday, Carmel, NY beat Section 6 champion Bennett, 42-12, in NYSPHSAA Class AA final at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse for its first ever state championship. This was also the first ever state championship for any high school football team based in Putnam County.
The Rams finished the season 13-0, and outscored their worthy opponents 512-81. The Senior Class finished their high school football career with a combined 33-1-1 record since Freshman year, truly a special group of young men.
This makes for a nice local headline, but headlines come and go. Often the stories beneath the headline, can be as compelling what made this historic accomplishment possible.
Let’s start with community.
For any parent who has or had a child participate in local sports, you learn much about the community you live in through the experience. Do you win with class, and lose with grace? Does the tone of your community radiate belonging, inclusion and support?
Traditionally, attending a Carmel Varsity football game is an event whether they are competing for a state championship or just vying for a successful season. Each year the atmosphere is made possible by volunteers devoted to their team, distinguished by the often shirtless and spirited “Carmel Crazies” student section, stoked by the Carmel Cheerleaders leading the packed stands with the “Carmel Rumble” and motivating music played on loudspeaker before, during and after the game.
Driven by the team’s success this year, Carmel community spirit hit overdrive. As the team prepared to leave for the State Championship in Syracuse on Friday, our local police, EMS and fire department escorted the team bus to I-84 to begin their journey. The school parking lot was packed with parents and fans encouraging their team, and we waved good bye with nervous excitement.
While we all were so proud of what they had accomplished, did all the attention put more pressure on kids? Would the kids be burdened with the thought of disappointing the community? Would they be able to perform on the big stage at the Carrier Dome?
The possibility of them losing the Championship game was a real possibility. Bennet (Buffalo) was an exceptionally talented team with a 11-1 record, including an individual I was told 'would be in the NFL one day'. I mean, nobody remembers who loses the Super Bowl, right? How do I talk to my son if they lose?
So, I had my 'win or lose, it was a great year' Dad speech prepared, almost afraid to accept the reality that they could win it all in an act of emotional protection.
As we arrived in Syracuse Friday night, the hotel lobby with populated with Carmel parents, students and alumni who had driven up the night before the game. Many were wearing custom T-shirts that were created in advance, emblazoned with “One Team – One Family” on the front. The burgeoning atmosphere was palpable, with many parents bonding as they spoke of the sleepless nights and anxiety of the past week. The team and our community were on the precipice of history, and waiting on game time at 3:00 the next afternoon seemed like an eternity.
When the moment finally arrived, we got to our seats and began to get situated at the Carrier Dome. The diversity of Carmel fans who made the trip was striking. Teachers, students and alumni filled the stands. I noticed in an adjacent section two gentlemen with graying hair wearing their fading “Carmel Varsity Football” jackets from probably 30 years ago. Anecdotes of alumni flying to Syracuse from parts unknown just to watch the game were passing through the stands.
For those who could not make the trip, the Carmel Knights of Columbus was packed with community members streaming the game on a big screen TV. My phone was getting wrecked with texts from people wishing us the best.
Finally, game time.
Carmel took the field to a rousing ovation, and from that moment on, conducted themselves as champions for the rest of the afternoon. Every player. Bold. Determined. Inspired. Relentless. One heart. One team.
Final Score: Carmel 42 Bennet 12.
This victory was made possible in no small part due to Head Coach Todd Cayea. He has been leading the Carmel program for over 30 years, and he and his staff were masterful in their preparation and game planning all season. Far beyond wins and losses, his impact on his players is special. Culture, accountability and leadership are standards every young man encounters when they play Carmel football, and I am proud to have had three sons pass through his program.
The post-game celebration and award ceremony was surreal, as we watched our players get announced individually and awarded a medal. They will also be receiving championship rings, how about that? Each athlete answered the question as whether or not they could perform under pressure, on the big stage. When life throws them curve-balls, or the pressure is on, I am so confident that these young men will be successful.
They proved it.
News spread quickly of Carmel’s win, and by the time we made the 3.5-hour trip back from Syracuse Saturday night, over 200 people were awaiting the team bus in at the high school. A loudspeaker was playing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on repeat. There was a victory party happening in the parking lot in below freezing weather!
The emotion was appreciable, we were one community, bonded by a consequential feat.
The team bus arrived with an escort of local and NYS Police, EMS and Fire Department vehicles, with their lights piercing the night. The players exited the bus one by one to cheers, hugs and high fives.
The young men deserved every second of it, accomplishing something no other Carmel team had ever done, and bringing our community together in a most memorable way.
In closing, after the championship game had ended, my wife Felicia and I were one of the last to leave the Carrier Dome. As we were leaving, we were approached by an employee of the arena. She told us she has been working high school championship games for years, and had never seen any group behave 'with such class'. She noted that the students and fans were so responsive to any direction she gave, and stated that she 'had rarely ever seen' a group applaud the opposing team during the award ceremony.
She left us by saying she was going to talk to her management team, and use Carmel as a standard for all other schools to follow at NYS Championship events moving forward.
You learn a lot about your community through sports. And yeah, I am from Carmel NY, home of the 2021 NYS AA Football Champions.
And I never have been prouder of my hometown."
Thank you to John for writing that for his son and community, congratulations to the Carmel Rams on their victory and unbelievable season.