Halftime a time to salute veterans at Downers Grove South football game

Members of the Downers Grove South football team take the field Oct. 6 wearing alternate U.S. Army jerseys for a game designed to pay tribute to veterans, active service members and first responders. The team was led onto the field by left tackle Joshua Manecke who has committed to play football at West Point.

Downers Grove South football coach Mark Molinari has always had a reason to honor those in the armed forces, so when a recruiter approached him about the high school team wearing alternate jerseys to support the U.S. Army, Molinari saw an opportunity to show support for all local veterans and service members, many of whom have ties to his team.

On Oct. 6, the Downers Grove South football team ran onto the field wearing black alternate jerseys with the words “Team Army” printed in gold across the fronts. The team was led onto the field by left tackle Joshua Manecke, who has committed to play football at West Point, dedicating himself to service in the Army.

“The kids are all so excited about what this stands for,” Molinari said. “We always talk about serving the community and this game is all about making sure we salute our veterans and first responders.”

Leading up to and at the game, the team sold T-shirts to raise money for Twenty Two Until None, a nonprofit organization committed to ending veteran suicide. With the sale of 400 shirts, the event raised $4,000, a portion of which will go to the charity.

Even choosing the charity to support was influenced by the team’s ties to the military, Molinari said. Twenty Two Until None was chosen because the father of one of his players is part of the organization.

During halftime, the team honored veterans by reading the names of about 50 service members and honoring two in particular on the field. Brandon Godenschwager, the father of Downers Grove South junior Coen Godenschwager, and Jake Pollak, a friend of the Manecke family, were given specially painted helmets made by parent Laura Duffy and also received gifts from the Army as the crowd was told a bit about their service.

World War II veteran Jake Pollak, 92, was honored during halftime of a Downers Grove South High School football game. Pollack, a member of South's Class of 1944, served with the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Italy through the end of the war. Pollack is joined by his daughter Sharon Green, left, and Lisa Manecke, a neighbor and friend.

“Your decision to serve this great nation demonstrates your courage and love for our country,” Molinari said. “To our veterans, our active service members and our soon-to-be soldiers, we say thank you. Your service is the backbone of this great nation and tonight we honor you.”

Godenschwager served in the Army from 2001 to 2005, when he was seriously wounded in Iraq by an IED blast. He is a Purple Heart recipient and has been awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation, among other honors.

Pollak, 92, is a World War II veteran and a Downers Grove High School graduate who served with the 10th Mountain Division on the front lines in Italy during the war. He returned to Downers Grove after his service to marry his grade school sweetheart and raise a family.

“This is all about making sure we salute our veterans,” Molinari said. “My father is a veteran, so military is very important to me, and our team has a lot of ties as well. We’ve had – and have – some very bright kids who continue to commit to one of the most elite military schools in the country and then commit themselves to service and we’re all very proud of that.”