The busiest person at last weekend’s Gryphons’ win over the Windsor Lancers just might have been Dario Di Renzo.
Dario’s the guy who runs the big Gryphon flag around the Alumni Stadium track, stopping halfway to do 10 push-ups in front of the stands, after every Gryphon touchdown. In the game against Windsor, he did 10 laps and 100 push-ups.
This is Dario’s ninth season running the flag.
“Crazy story,” Dario says. “(Current special forces coordinator) Billy Brown worked for me as a bartender. They were approaching their Homecoming Game and he said ‘You know, we need something to sort of get the crowd going.’ I thought of the idea because I went to a Western Homecoming Game back 30 years ago and there was an older gentleman (Dr. Allen Philbrick) who used to run the flag every time Western scored a touchdown. So I said ‘Billy, I’m thinking of doing something like this.’”
Kyle Walters, then head coach of the Gryphons, gave the idea his approval and the tradition was born.
“It started with a small, little black flag and it just sort of went into every time they scored a touchdown, I did a lap,” Dario says. “I added the 10 push-ups a few years after that.”
However, Dario can’t remember the exact reason he started doing the push-ups.
“I think someone was challenging me,” he says. “I think it came down to the players saying a lap wasn’t good enough. They wanted more, OK, so I said ‘I’ll give you a lap and 10 push-ups every time’ and that sort of stuck.”
On average Dario figures he does four laps per game.
“There’s at least four scores in most of the games I’ve been at and they usually come at the end,” he says. “They’re never spread out.”
And there’s no though of adding more laps by running the flag around after scores other than touchdowns.
“I feel at my age I’m still in pretty good shape and I try to look after myself. If I was to add something for field goals, I’d be leaving quite sooner than later.”
Dario’s 47, but has a long way to go to catch Dr. Philbrick’s mark. He stopped in 2000 at the age of 86.
“I’ve got some years left,” Dario says. “I think I’m going to continue doing it until the body doesn’t want me to. There has to be something that makes me say ‘OK, I’m done,’ but I see myself doing it for a while.”
One game that stands out for Dario is the 2012 OUA semifinal when the Gryphons rebounded from a 22-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to eventually win in overtime.
“We were down three scores and the fans started to leave. Everybody was leaving and it was cold,” he says. “I think that was one of the greatest games and comebacks I’ve ever seen. I think I did four or five laps (in that fourth) quarter. It was unbelievable. That game I think was pivotal to the program, too, and coach Lang sort of cementing some of his philosophies into the kids – never giving up. That was just pivotal.”
While Dario stands behind the Gryphon bench when he’s waiting for a touchdown by the home side, he doesn’t have much contact with the team.
“During the game, I keep it very minimal,” he says. “I know they’re focused so I don’t like to disrupt what’s being said to them or if they’re thinking about the game and they’re being coached. If they come over, which most of them do, and they converse, I will converse with them. Usually they come over after the game and they’re all excellent. Through the years I’ve been doing this, most of the players have been fantastic and so have the coaches.”
Dario, who has coached rep girls’ soccer, Special Olympics basketball and senior girls’ basketball at Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School, his alma mater, began doing the laps when the track that surrounds the field was a cinder track which led to problems when it rained. The track surface would make the flag turn black if it was allowed to sit on the track.
“What they’ve done to the facility the last few years has been tremendous,” Dario says. “It’s gone from eating beans and soup to eating caviar. The track is beautiful. It’s just wonderful to run on as opposed to the dirt road we used to run on. It was tough and if it rained, there were puddles.”
Dario was actually the first person to run around the new track at an official event after it was redone. That means he held the track record until there was an official track and field meet held there.
“I didn’t know that,” he says. “Can you let (Gryphon track and field coach) Dave Scott-Thomas know that?”
The flag Dario carries now is the third one he’s carried on the laps around the track.
“The first one was a smaller black on with the Gryphon logo. It was on a little post,” he says. “I had a bigger one that, because of the many washes they did because of that track, they got rid of it. Then they got me this bigger one and Stu Lang, the old coach, got me a bigger post to carry it. I have a feeling this is probably the last year for this one because it’s starting to tear and rip. They usually look after me that way.”
For the last three or four seasons, Dario has led the Gryphons onto the Alumni Stadium field.
“Coach Lang phoned me before the season and he said ‘How would you like to lead the team onto the field?’ I said ‘It would be a pleasure.’ It went from there and that’s since stuck as part of the tradition. I lead the team onto the field and do a few little waves and off I go.”
This year he’s been joined by three male cheerleaders who each carry a smaller flag that together spell out U of G and Dario welcomes their participation.
“If everybody can get into a game like that and you can ignite some spirit in our community, I think it’s always fun,” Dario says. “I don’t get egotistical about it and say ‘I’m the guy and no one else is.’ I think it’s wonderful that people show their spirit.”
Dario’s hoping to get to run a lot of laps at the Gryphons’ next home game, their Homecoming Game against the McMaster Marauders Sept. 23. Game time is 1 p.m.
The Gryphons are to play the Toronto Varsity Blues at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m.