BERLIN - While winning has become synonymous with Berlin football, two words have defined the program: history and tradition.
You can’t have winning without the other two.
“Berlin football is all about the tradition,” said senior Tyler Dinkins, following the Redcoats’ 49-0 win over Plainville Friday. “We like to win here and that’s how it’s been for as long as I can remember. It’s a brotherhood here.”
Even through the early years when Berlin was successful, it was in 1976, under Al Pelligrinelli, when Redcoats football began to become what it is known as today.
Pelligrinelli won or shared the Northwest Conference championship 15 times, was a state semifinalist eight times and finished with a Berlin record of 208-83-5, thus creating “Berlin football.”
“We’re very blessed,” current Redcoats football head coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “We had coach Al Pelligrinelli who’s a legend and probably one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. He’s set the standard and now, we’re just trying to live up to it.”
Aresimowicz has been in charge of the Berlin football program for the last three seasons. Taking over in 2016, the head coach has a record of 21-6 and is heading into Week 5, 4-0.
Aresimowicz knows what it’s like, as do many of his current players, to play Berlin football from the youth age and more importantly, what it means.
“It’s a tradition,” Aresimowicz said. “It’s a program that’s bigger than anyone of us. I grew up in this town. I remember playing youth football. I’d come here [to Sage Park] on Saturdays and watch Bob Facey (Class of ‘79) and others play here.”
DEC. 3, 1977
For the first time in the history of Berlin High School, the Redcoats competed in the Class M state championship game.
“It created an uproar in the town,” the 1978 BHS yearbook stated. “Berlin practiced hard and went into the game with enthusiasm. Their opponent was Shoreline [Conference] champion [Daniel] Hand High, who had a record of 23 straight wins. Berlin emotions and hopes were high, and Berlin played the best game ever. The lead was exchanged from one team to the other, but the game ended with Berlin losing a heartbreaker, 16-20. The Berlin fans knew that the Redcoats did the best job they possibly could and brought their team all the way to the State Championship playoffs.
“Never in the history of Berlin have so many fans attended football games. Fans drove many miles to see away games, where Berlin fans often outnumbered the hometown fans.”
THREE DECADES OF CHASING A TITLE
Aresimowicz watched the Redcoats reach the Class M Championship eight times from 1978-2014 and a Class SS final in 1987.
In 1981, he watched Bob Mayette serve as team captain and saw Berlin finish with an undefeated record in the Northwest Conference.
In 1991, he saw Edward Hrubiec, an All-State tight end/defensive tackle, whose son, Zach is currently on the team and an All-State player in his own right. That year, the Redcoats were runners up in the state championship game - a 35-22 loss to Darien - finishing the season with a record of 11-1.
In 1992, he watched Adam Salina, an All-State linebacker/fullback, who was the team’s leading rusher with 1,010 yards. It was also the second consecutive year Berlin reached the Class M championship game, finishing the season 11-2 after a 36-18 loss to Middletown.
In 1997, Aresimowicz stopped watching and started coaching.
“I’ve been coaching at the youth level here in Berlin, this is the first year in 20 years that I’m not doing it,” Aresimowicz said. “I’ve known all these kids since they were little. It’s a community, it’s a program. It’s not just any one player, it’s Berlin. It’s a tradition and we play good football. We have really good kids and we’re really lucky.”
One of the kids he coached at the youth level was Max DeLorenzo.
After 1992, Berlin wouldn’t reach another title game until 2007; three years after John Capodice took over the program and DeLorenzo’s freshman year, and another championship loss.
DEC. 6, 2009
For the first time in the history of Berlin High School, the Redcoats were crowned the Class M state champions.
DeLorenzo rushed a staggering 334 yards on 44 carries with three touchdowns. On the receiving end he caught four passes for 55 and another touchdown as Berlin blew out Bethel 46-6.
Also on Berlin’s 2009 championship team was quarterback Dan Hackett and linebacker Michael Aresimowicz.
“It’s amazing to watch, it really is,” Aresimowicz said. “You see Max [DeLorenzo], I coached him at the youth level and he went on to UConn. I would go to all his games and now he’s back on the coaching staff.”
In a way, it reemphasizes that once a Redcoat, always a Redcoat.
“I want to bring all those kids back because that’s what the program’s about,” Aresimowicz said. “My son Michael, Dan Hackett, Rick DeGroff, Bob Mayette, that’s what it’s all about. It’s bigger than all of us. We just try to keep it going.”
The Redcoats have set lofty goals this season. Berlin believes this will be the year it not only makes it back to the championship game - which would be its first since falling to Hillhouse, 34-12, in 2014 - but takes home the ring.
Last season they were close. Berlin made it as far as the semifinal when they fell to eventually Class M champion Killingly and finished with a record of 9-2.
“We know the people, the players who came before us,” Berlin quarterback Kevin Dunn said. “They worked so hard to build this program for us. We have to carry that tradition because we’re known in the state for being a football power house so we have to continue that tradition.”
“I want to emphasis that tradition,” Berlin rusher Alex Halkias added. “That’s what Berlin football is. The work ethic passes down from the kids who were above us and now that we’re old we have to pass it down to the kids below us so they can continue this success.”
Now, it will be a matter if this group of players will be able to make a little history of their own and add to that tradition.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org