Jefferson Township High School’s annual Homecoming celebration this past weekend was highlighted by Friday night’s football game against Vernon and interspersed with events honoring past achievements, celebrating the present moment, and offering a brief glimpse into the future.

Two doses of the real world changed the overall feeling. A rainy remnant of Hurricane Michael canceled some outdoor events, including the annual bonfire, and the unexpected death of a beloved member of the Falcon family cast a pall upon the mood. But JTHS and the community were still treated to a celebration of unity that symbolized what makes Jefferson Township great.

Jefferson High School Marching Band takes the field for the half time show. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Though the unrelenting rain and wind were nowhere near as severe as in the southeast, Michael caused enough chaos to cancel the outdoor pep rally and bonfire planned for Thursday, the night before the Homecoming game and accompanying celebrations. This would have been a downer enough. Then news of the sudden passing on Wednesday of Javier (Jay) Cuervo, longtime Jefferson resident and beloved member of the “Falcon family,” threatened to eliminate the festive joy that is a hallmark of Homecoming.

Jay Cuervo

The 2018 celebration was planned to honor the high school’s state championship football teams of 1986, 1987, and 2008. Two of Jay and Mary Anne Cuervo’s six children, Matt and Kevin, played on the 2008 team. Former teammates had traveled from several states to relive past glories. While the usual rough joviality accompanied the reunion, there was a reverential tone as well. People who knew Jay, along with those who played with Matt, Kevin, and their siblings, offered condolences to the Cuervo family, recalling the great spirit Jay brought to everything he did.

Before the Friday night game, public address announcer Steve Meyer taped a picture of himself and Cuervo to the space above his friend’s customary seat in the press box. Cuervo served for several years as a spotter and coordinated the press crew’s food orders from the snack stand. The picture was a reminder to do this right … and have a great time doing it.

At halftime of the football game came the introduction of the annual Homecoming Court featuring a male and female student from the freshman, sophomore, and junior classes and three males and females from the senior class. Two seniors would be crowned 2018 king and queen, and one of the candidates was Jay and Mary Anne’s daughter, Nicole Cuervo. When she was introduced, the roar from the crowd was boisterous; when she was named queen, to describe the ovation as merely thunderous would be an understatement. There was an outpouring of support worthy of any queen.

Nicole Cuervo being crowned Homecoming Queen. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

When Kevin and Matt Cuervo were introduced at the end of the third quarter as part of the 2008 state championship team, the stadium once again exploded in support. Cuervo’s sons thanked the crowd for the sympathy and love expressed for their father and the family.

2018 Homecoming King, Cameron Delfino (front left), and Homecoming Queen, Nicole Cuervo (front right), pictured with some of the Cuervo family. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Falcons versus Vikings

The Falcon football team played against the visiting Vernon Vikings. Even without several key players, including talented running backs Joe Batelli and Matt Cappello, the Falcons scored early and often, turning the game into a rout by halftime and ultimately winning 34-6. With the honored guests reminding the fans of past glories, the crowd sampled a taste of what is to come. Several underclassmen played key roles in the victory – among them sophomore running back Michael Gould, who gained a game-high 134 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns to place the Falcon offense.

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During the traditional post-game celebration “at the rock,” Jefferson head coach Jerry Venturino interrupted the awarding of game balls and joyous shouts of “Let’s go, Falcons!” and “How about them Falcons!” He eloquently put the event into a sense of perspective by noting how special night this night was and how much emotion was displayed in the stadium. He thanked the alumni, families, and friends for their support. The team “was glad we could do our part,” he added.

Victorious Falcons head towards the rock. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)
Coach Jerry Venturino handing out game balls at the victory celebration at the rock. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)
Victorious Falcons gather at the rock, a decades old tradition. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Some people do not have much use for high school sports in general, football in particular, and especially Homecoming. But in the history of Jefferson’s high school, Homecoming 2018 will no doubt be recorded as a celebration: victories on and off the field, remembrance of a beloved friend who was a positive force in many lives in many ways, a time when the best aspects of the spirit of Jefferson were on display, and a night of unity and communal joy through the tears.

Jefferson Falcons Cheerleaders. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Honored Guests from the State Championship Teams of 1986, 1987, and 2008

Members of the 1986, ’87 and 2008 State Champion Falcons. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

The following players from the 1986 and 1987 teams were present: Joe Amato ’86, Michael Bencivengo ’86, Ted Ciesla, Tom Falletta ’86, Giessuebel ’86, ’87, Al Gunneson ’86, Tim Librizzi ’86, ’87, Jeff Meisner, Jeff Metro ’86, ’87, John Reiter ’86, Will Ruscher ’86, ’87, Richard Stewart ’86, Dave Terpstra ’86, ’87, Kevin Veith ’86, ’87, and John Cinotti (coach) ’86, ’87. In addition, David Busch ’86, ’87 was represented by people walking in his honor.

Members of the 1987 and ’88 State Champion Falcons. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)
Members of the 1987 and ’88 State Champion Falcons teams take the field to be recognized. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

The following players from the 2008 team were present: Max Becker, Michael Bessas, Kevin Cuervo, Matt Cuervo, Pat Hodapp, Sam Hottle, Gavin McCarrey, Kevin Murphy, Tim Palazzolo, Frank Strumulo, Bryan Vander Ploeg, Anthony Vasile, and Joey Vasile.

Members of the 2008 State Champion Falcons take the field to be recognized. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Homecoming Court

2018 Homecoming King, Cameron Delfino, and Homecoming Queen, Nicole Cuervo. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)

Freshmen: Dale Jenkins and Allie Vargas
Sophomores: Michael Gould and Taylor Soules
Juniors: Matt Johnson and Kailyn Kerr
Seniors: Joe Batelli, Paul Monaco, and Homecoming King Cameron Delfino; Giana Brindisi, Jenna Picotti, and Homecoming Queen Nicole Cuervo

Nicole Cuervo surrounded by her brothers after she was named Homecoming Queen. (Photo: Ulla Vinkman)