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The last couple of weeks I've been interviewing players and coaches past and present who are part of the history of the rivalry between the Westerly and Stonington high school football teams. Stonington and Westerly played their first game in 1911 and on Thanksgiving will celebrate their 100th anniversary.
My story will run on Thanksgiving morning. Before that, however, I wanted to introduce a few of the people I talked to and tell a few of their stories, all of which unfortunately don't fit in their entirety in the newspaper.
One of those people is Stonington's Dennis Dwyer, a 1961 graduate and a 2011 inductee into the Stonington High School Athletic Hall of Fame. At Stonington, Dwyer was a two-time All-Eastern Connecticut Conference pick in football and was outstanding player for the Bears against Westerly in the 1959 Armistice Day game and the 1960 Thanksgiving Day game. His 98-yard run from scrimmage against Plainville is the longest in program history.
His Hall of Fame bio caught my eye, though, because it said Dwyer "retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel after 42 years of both active and reservist duties." That's a pretty good history lesson in itself.
As it turns out, Dwyer joined the National Guard while he was still in high school.
Before he retired, he became a Green Beret, a member of the U.S. Army's Special Forces.
"I had some good coaches that kind of instilled something in me," Dwyer said this week. "They told me, 'Every time you get the ball, smell the grass in the end zone and don't stop until you get there.
"… I've always pushed the envelope. How can I tell the guys I'm in charge of, 'Do this 10-mile run,' if I can't do it? I was always out in front, pushing my troops. They should be able to keep up. Rangers, Airborne, Special Forces, that's a lot of pushing the envelope … jumping out of planes. When you do things like that, you've got to be right and you've got to be good."
Still, Dwyer remembers the Westerly-Stonington game quite well.
"A lot of tension, a lot of rah-rah stuff," he said.
He was also a member of Stonington's 1958-59 boys' basketball team which won the ECC title and was ECC shot put champion as a senior. He said he was "tickled pink," to be named to the Stonington Hall of Fame.
"To be in it was a real big honor," Dwyer said. "I couldn't do it without the team."