In the seven seasons of Tony Verducci’s football coaching tenure at Bishop Ireton, veteran D.C.-area official Barry Lake had never called one of the Cardinals’ games. To avoid any awkwardness or complications, schedule makers had tried to avoid scheduling Lake, who works in public affairs, to officiate games coached by Verducci, an attorney and Lake’s co-worker at the Washington Navy Yard.
So when Lake received his schedule this season, he noticed he was slated to officiate an Ireton game against Episcopal on Sept. 21 — something he didn’t think much of at the time.
Then came Monday, Sept. 16, and the shooting at the Navy Yard that killed 13 workers and injured eight others.
Neither Lake nor Verducci worked in building 197 where Aaron Alexis allegedly carried out his attack. Both, though “terrified,” as Lake put it, were locked down safe from imminent danger. Both returned home safely when Navy Yard workers were released late Monday evening.
And then both men took the field at Ireton in Alexandria on Saturday. Lake, officiating on the opposite sideline didn’t get a chance to talk to his co-worker during the game. But he did notice the decals on the back of Ireton’s helmets — a simple “WNY” (Washington Navy Yard) in gold letters on a black background — a nod to his shared connection with Verducci, and to the victims not fortunate enough to find themselves on a football field Saturday afternoon.
“I thought it was a nice touch,” Lake said. “Tasteful, and as far as officials, we don’t have a problem with that. I thought it was a nice touch.”
Ireton didn’t stage some miraculous comeback with those decals in tow, falling 55-14 to Episcopal. Nor did the Cardinals suggest the reflection and prayers they hoped the stickers would inspire had any effect on their ability to focus Saturday. Lake and Verducci downplayed the chronological coincidence of their first on-field encounter. But the stickers reminded everyone of the tragedy and the intricate, subtle web connecting those affected by it.
“Our team motto this year is ‘It’s not about me,’ ” Verducci said. “So we thought it’d be a nice idea to get decals, put them on our helmets as a reminder to ourselves and everyone else that, although Saturday might be a normal football game so to speak, in reality there was something going on that was bigger than us.”