GREECE — Twenty-five years after last posing together for a victory photo, nearly 20 high-school athletes — now middle-aged men — re-enacted that scene on Jan. 17. They did so with plenty of whooping and hollering, flashing the same youthful exuberance they’d enjoyed while celebrating sectional and state titles.
More than two-thirds of the 1983 Cardinal Mooney boys’ soccer team, including several members who now live out of state, reconvened at Paddy’s Irish Pub to note the silver anniversary of the Cardinals’ championship season.This marked the team’s first-ever reunion, with numerous former coaches and alumni joining the players.
Many attendees pored through a sizable scrapbook brought by Paul Forte, the title team’s head coach, that contained newspaper accounts of the season. As he enjoyed the proceedings, Rob Mojsej remarked on how the ’83 Cardinals epitomized the word "team" to become the very best in the state.
"Quite frankly, I’ve seen really talented players who don’t reach their capability," said Mojsej, who served as chief organizer of the reunion. "Were we the most talented individuals? No. Dedicated, giving 100 percent every time out? Absolutely."
"They were a tough group of kids — physically tough, blue-collar, unselfish, committed to defense," Forte agreed. "They weren’t the most skilled group, but boy, did they play together."
That Cardinal team posted a final record of 22-1-1. Mooney swept through the Section 5 Class A tournament and then defeated Lancaster and Vestal before winning 1-0 over Poughkeepsie Arlington in the state Class A title game. Forte was so proud of the state crown that he eventually got customized license plates proclaiming "1 GOAL."
Perhaps no victory was sweeter than the sectional final against Greece Arcadia. It pitted Catholic and public high schools from the same town, players who knew each other well, and a formidable challenge for Mooney being that Arcadia came in as the state’s top-ranked team and prohibitive favorite. However, the Cardinals pulled out a 2-1 win on the University of Rochester’s artificial turf before a packed stadium.
"If you asked each one of the guys which win was the best, probably the pinnacle was Arcadia," said Mojsej, who was a junior midfielder on that team. "We were under the impression that the two best teams in the state were right here in Greece."
"They were a great team — but I’m glad we beat them," quipped Ken Merkey, who was a senior sweeper for the stellar Mooney defense.
A wild scene unfolded when the final horn sounded at that game, as hundreds of exuberant Mooney fans stormed the field. That prompted a warning from tournament officials for no subsequent outbursts.
"We didn’t care. It was worth it," Forte remarked with a laugh.
The state title was first in any sport in the history of Cardinal Mooney, which opened in 1962. As it turned out, it also would be the last: Mooney ceased operation less than six years later due to escalating costs and declining enrollment. The stately building, located at 750 Maiden Lane, now serves as a middle school and district offices for the Greece Central School District.
Forte moved over to Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School in the fall of 1989 and remains there nearly 20 years later, teaching social studies. Now the BK girls’ soccer and boys’ golf coach, Forte said he’s coached some very good squads over the years but never again experienced a state crown.
"You don’t get a shot like that every year; you never know when it’s going to happen again. It takes all the stars to align and a lot of hard work," he said.
Merkey agreed that fate shone brightly upon the ’83 Cardinals, saying, "It must have been all those rosaries before the games. We’d also pray to a statue of Mary outside after the games."
Yet Mojsej also maintained that you create your own luck, saying he’s used that championship experience throughout his adult life as a reminder that when successes occur, they’re "not just by chance but a lot of effort, a lot of work."
Merkey rues the fact there is no more Cardinal Mooney, saying that "it was a wonderful school." Forte added that his current high-school athletes have just a vague understanding that the school existed, since they "weren’t even born when we closed. It’s too bad." However, Forte was touched by the fact that so many folks turned out for the Jan. 17 reunion — some even wearing their state-championship jackets.
"It made me feel good that this thing still meant so much to them," he said.