By Zach Cavanagh

While the Dana Hills football team earned a 10-7 win over Laguna Beach to improve to 4-0 for the first time in school history, the real victory came outside the lines for the team’s eighth annual Honor the Valor event.

The Dolphins, the 12th Man Football Club and Dana Point 5th Marines honored 50 military veterans and the Gold Star Family of Army SPC Marques Irving Knight, Kathi Conroy and Chris Naganuma with a pregame honoree dinner and on-field ceremony, as well as a postgame jersey exchange between players and veterans.

“It’s powerful being able to represent the veterans,” Dana Hills lineman Tanner Vallejo said. “When you’re on the field and you have those veterans on the sidelines, all those active-duty Marines helping out, it’s something special that you get to be their surrogate warrior and really just play your heart out for that cause.”

Each Dana Hills player wore a royal blue, light blue and black digital camouflage jersey with an honored veteran’s name on the back and patches on their shoulders signifying the veteran’s branch of service.

“It meant a lot,” Dana Hills quarterback Zack Saavedra said. “I have siblings that are in the military, so it did mean a lot to me. It took a big toll on me at the end of the game. It was one of those games we had to fight through.”

A handful of the honorees were veterans of World War II, including 94-year-old Tom Cataldo.

“The people use the word huge or great or whatever,” Cataldo said. “This was greater than that. It was awesome, really. I wasn’t feeling all that great when I went there, and I felt a lot better at the end.”

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Cataldo, who has spent the past 35 years running the nonprofit Better Vision for Children Foundation with a current office in Dana Point, received the No. 10 jersey from receiver Lukas Saavedra.

“During the game, I’m standing on the sideline,” Cataldo said, “and right in front of me, Lukas intercepts a pass for a play that really turned the game. It was very terrific.”

For Cataldo, it was a serendipitous chance that he received Saavedra’s jersey, as it brought him back to the early days of his foundation.

“When Lukas sent me this letter, the name Saavedra just rung a bell,” Cataldo said. “Thirty-five years ago, I started this foundation in Mexico, and the very first vision screening we did down there was in an orphanage just south of Tijuana. The doctor who was in charge, his name was Saavedra.”

Cataldo’s Better Vision for Children Foundation fights to prevent and cure the partial and total blindness from amblyopia. Also known as lazy eye, amblyopia is when vision is reduced in one eye because of the brain and eye not working together.

While Cataldo said working in the nonprofit world can be a thankless job, he called his experience at Honor the Valor “rewarding.”

 

Zach Cavanagh
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.

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