U.S. Army and Knighthawks Create a Special Bond
When the Rochester Knighthawks walked into their dressing room on Feb. 3, they were greeted with a pleasant surprise. Sewn into the left chest of their silver and light gray military-themed jerseys were authentic U.S. Army patches.
"It's amazing that we get to represent the men and women who serve and protect us," said Knighthawks forward Joe Resetarits, who wore a 10th Mountain Division patch. "Having that on my jersey means the world to me. Every time we get to play this game, it's a great one to play in because they deserve recognition for protecting the freedoms we enjoy."
On Military Appreciation Night, the Knighthawks paid tribute to the 98th Division, whose division headquarters were once in Rochester and who still has two companies of drill sergeants in Webster, NY. The front of the jersey featured the "Iroquois Division" patch, which includes a shield in the shape of the seal of the State of New York, with the head of an Iroquois Indian Chief. The five feathers represent the five original Iroquois Nations: Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawk.
For the first time, the Knighthawks integrated Army patches into the Military Night uniforms. It was a welcomed complement to the United States Army logo that appeared on the right side of the jerseys.
"It's an absolute honor to partner with the Knighthawks for evenings like this," said Capt. Kate Murray. "It's great to able to spend the time to recognize the military personnel and veterans within the community - not only those who are still serving, but those have served and will continue to do so."
"The patches on the uniforms were a nice personal touch and a great way to connect the community to the military and the Army," she added. "Each patch that was worn was from a member of the Rochester Recruiting Company that was deployed downrange over to Afghanistan or Iraq since 9/11. They were the actual patches they wore on their uniforms. It was really great to see that out there. The support from the community was amazing; the thunderous applause after the national anthem gave me chills."
Knighthawks team captain Sid Smith had the privilege of wearing an Army captain's insignia on the right side of his jersey and the patch of the 101st Airborne Division. It was the patch worn by Capt. Murray and 1st Sgt. Neil Ashley, while they were deployed overseas. In the back hallway of The Blue Cross Arena, Smith was honored to shake their hands and thank them for their service.
"It's a great way to honor them and the sacrifices they make, and the things they do to protect the country," he said.
Smith and his teammates, Dan Lomas and Kyle Jackson, greeted the members of the United States Army and posed for photographs. Lomas wore the patch of the 1st Infantry Division, which is officially nicknamed "The Big Red One." Kyle Jackson was inspired after Capt. Murray told him he was wearing a Special Forces patch.
"It was truly an amazing honor," said the second-year pro. "Wearing the Special Forces patch, and the look on her face when she told me which one I was wearing, made me aware that our jerseys had greater meaning than just within the Knighthawks family."
Getting the opportunity to meet the players was especially meaningful for Knighthawks fan and Bristol, NY native, Staff Sgt. Timothy McGuire. After serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky., the Staff Sergeant is back in Rochester and working in recruiting.
"I think it's a great opportunity for both of us," he said. "I joined back in 2008 and I am just thrilled that I can be at home and hanging out with the Knighthawks. I am very fortunate."
On Military Appreciation Night, the Knighthawks and Bandits both wore military jerseys to raise funds and awareness for Veterans Outreach Center, which provides free programs and support for veterans in Rochester and 13 surrounding counties.
While Rochester represented the Iroquois Division, the Bandits donned Coast Guard inspired uniforms, honoring the Atlantic Area USCG sector stationed in Buffalo. The Bandits' white, black, and orange uniforms featured the iconic maritime stripes, as well as the USCG motto, Semper Paratus, meaning "always ready."
Smith and forward Cody Jamieson took the military tribute to another level as they wore custom-made black Under Armour® sneakers with the 98th Division patch. Of all the jerseys worn by the Knighthawks, according to Jamieson, this was one of the finest designs ever.
"It was a pretty sweet logo and was probably one of our best jerseys yet," he said.
Military Appreciation Night has become an annual tradition for the Knighthawks. The patriot-themed event has all the splendor and majesty of a Fourth of July celebration. From the color guard to the 57-foot American flag that covered half the field to the guitar-playing national anthem, it was a night to honor veterans, reservists and active military members.
After the game, the winning jersey auction bidders were allowed to go on the turf to receive their jerseys directly from the players. Knighthawks transition man Brad Gillies handed over his jersey to Sean Hickey, whose wife, Katrina Vinovrski-Hickey, surprised him with an early birthday gift.
"I was very happy," said Sean, whose birthday was Feb. 8. "She had to put a bid in with two seconds left on the clock to get it. There was a bidding war right at the end."
Sean was thrilled to win the jersey that bears his unit's patch. The Staff Sergeant, who has served in the United States Army for 16 years, has been a member of the 98th Division since basic training. He is currently stationed in Buffalo at one of their brigade headquarters.
Sean and his wife also have ties to Gillies, who coached their son, Ivan Vinovrski, last year on the Jr. Knighthawks Midget team. After receiving the jersey from Gillies, Staff Sgt. Hickey wanted to give the Knighthawks standout something to commemorate the night.
"First responders, like firefighters and police do it, trade patches," he said. "Military does it a little bit here and there. So I thought it would be cool, since they were using the 98th Division on the jerseys, to give him an actual 98th Division patch. I gave him one from our camouflaged uniform and one from the dress uniform."
Gillies was really surprised and touched by the gesture.
"It was really cool to receive the patch of a current person serving in the Army," he said. "And for that to be the same patch we represented on our jersey, it was a unique thing and something I'll always remember."
Military Appreciation Night game was a chance for players, fans and military members to honor our men and women in uniform. It was also an opportunity to celebrate the rich history of the 98th Division, which was first organized back in 1918 and reactivated in Rochester in 1947. The division, active since the Cold War, continues to provide training for new soldiers throughout the region.
"We have been going the last three years to the Military Nights," said Staff Sgt. Hickey. "It's great (this year) with them doing the 98th because it's a local unit. It's just great to see and for everyone to learn about it and the history. (There was a great connection) with the Iroquois being the unit patch and lacrosse being a Native American sport."
Images from this story
Rochester Knighthawks Forward Kyle Jackson
Rochester Knighthawks Military Appreciation Faceoff
Sean Hickey and Rochester Knighthawks' Brad Gillies
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