Rivals find common ground in support of Sack

MILLIS, Mass. –- On Friday night at Millis High, Tri-Valley League rivals Millis-Hopedale and Medfield met on the gridiron with dual purposes. The neighboring programs were looking to continue a decades-long rivalry that had to be shelved with the introduction of the new playoff system but, more importantly, the teams were showing mutual support for injured Millis captain Taylor Sack.

There was no entrance fee for the scrimmage, which Medfield would go on to win 21-12, but at the gate fans were asked to donate to the Taylor Sack Foundation. Sack, a Millis-Hopedale senior captain, was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in February and most of the night was dedicated to supporting him and his family.

After the game it was announced that the scrimmage raised $4,500.

Millis-Hopedale head coach Dale Olmsted was thrilled at the reaction from the community to the special preseason game. He remarked, “Financially is great, for everyone to support the fundraisers, but it really means a lot to have the support of all the towns, especially Medfield. Our sport has been hammered about all the bad things that can happen, but this is why we play =– for the team, not only the team you’re on but other teams that have respect for the game and one another.”

Olmsted admitted that he was emotional seeing his captain back on the sideline.

“It’s great to see where he’s come from since I saw him in February, the first time I saw him after the injury, until now,” Olmsted added. “Attitude-wise, outlook on life –- he’s just an inspiration for us all. When I look at how he responded to that adversity, it makes me very proud.”

Prior to the game, the teams gathered at midfield for a photo. All of the players and coaches on both sides were wearing T-shirts that read “#StayStrongSack” and bore the no. 11 on the back, which Sack wore during his Millis-Hopedale career.

The emotions of the evening reached a peak when Sack led the Mohawks onto the field, pushing his wheelchair through the natural turf at Millis. The crowd on both sides stood to cheer on the senior, who has been an inspiration to his teammates. He also joined his fellow captains at the 50-yard line for a non-conventional coin toss.

Rather than simply flipping a quarter, the teams competed in a tug-of-war battle, easily won by the Mohawks, to decide who got the ball first. The idea was more than a novelty, as it was a tradition for a number of years that the teams would have a tug-of-war over the Charles River, which separates the towns.

Throughout the evening, Sack was approached by a number of well-wishers (from classmates to Millis residents) and spent much of the game on the sidelines with his father Clay and his girlfriend April O’Connell, but was still intently watching his teammates. When first asked how he was doing, Sack quickly responded, “Did you see how this game started?”

“Hopefully that the team takes the advantage of this opportunity to play the game that they love and go all out,” said Olmsted about the influence of Sack on his teammates. “Coaches always say to play every play like it’s your last because you never know and he reinforces that.”

On the field, Millis-Hopedale turned the ball over three times including an interception on the opening possession that was returned for a touchdown. Medfield struggled offensively against the stout Mohawks defense, but another turnover gave the Warriors the short field for its second score. Millis running back Chris Ahl started to find openings in the Medfield defense and brought the Mohawks back within two at halftime (14-12).

Medfield would score the only touchdown of the second half and both teams substituted liberally as the game moved into the fourth quarter. While there was a rivalry that kept things intense, both teams recognized the need to keep player healthy for the regular season.

At the final whistle, the teams lined up for handshakes and the Medfield players and coaches all made a point to run over to Sack, who had moved onto the field, and include him in the line. After speaking with his team, head coach Erik Ormberg led the team in a call-and-respond chant of “Taylor...Sack!”

The Medfield and Millis players have a special bond from sharing the same youth program (along with Norfolk) and that mutual respect was obvious all over the field. Ormberg reflected on how grateful he was that the Warriors could help even in this small way. He remarked, “The word humbling comes to mind. When you see a situation like this, it puts a lot of things into perspective.”

He continued, “When I talked to dale and heard about it…it was devastation and that’s what we talked about was how can we bring attention and support the family. You go over and shake his hand after the game and this is a high school kid that can’t play football his senior year, let alone what he’s dealing with. I feel great that the communities were so supportive and that the kids played so cleanly today, but leaving and shaking Taylor’s hand on the way out -- it’s very humbling.”