Hill-Murray’s football team will kick-off its new stadium on Friday in a familiar way.
Pioneers football players ask for the intercession of Mary with the title, “Mary, Queen of Victory” before each game, which the new stadium is named after. That prayer tradition goes back to the 1971 according to Hill-Murray president Jim Hanson, who also graduated from the Maplewood school in 1973.
“Coach Terry Skrypek, who went on to coach at the University of St Thomas for over 20 years, used to say a Hail Mary before every game that he coached,” Hanson said.
Skrypek coached hockey, baseball and football for the Pioneers and joined the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame after a 40-year coaching career. He led the Pioneers to the 1982-1983 state hockey title and amassed a 325-44-3 record.
“His brother, Father Greg Skrypek initiated a specific saying to follow when he was our chaplain, ‘Mother, Mary of Victory’ and the team would chant ‘pray for us,’” Hanson added. “This has become now a long held tradition for all of our teams and a cheer you will hear in the new stadium on Friday night.”
Mary’s title of ‘Queen of Victory’ didn’t come out of nowhere at Hill-Murray one day in the 1970s. Queen of Victory originally came about after Don John’s navies defeated the Turks at Lepanto in 1571. Pope St. Pius V asked all the faithful to pray the rosary because of the Turks’ threat to Italy. The Holy Father declared Oct. 7 the feast of Our Lady of Victory, which later became Our Lady of the Rosary.
While Hill-Murray athletes invoking Mary, Queen of Victory doesn’t guarantee a Pioneers victory, it does witness taking a moment for prayer in public. Likewise, the stadium’s name will call to mind the Mother of God for all competitors and visitors.
“The family who purchased the naming rights of the stadium are long time members of the community with a history of participation in extracurricular activities, and they asked that the name reflect the prayer that they all said and remember fondly rather than name the stadium after them or their business,” Hanson said.
Mary Queen of Victory’s field will remained Higgns Field however. Father Higgins served as a priest and teacher many years at the school.
The family who Hanson mentioned had asked for the field name to remain. Father Higgins, who now resides in Michigan, received an invitation for the grand opening but can’t make it because of health reasons.
Hill-Murray’s new stadium will also have the blessing of Archbishop Bernard Hebda when he comes on Friday in the early portion of a day-long grand opening celebration. Festivities conclude with the Pioneers football team (0-2) taking on Hastings (1-1) at 7 p.m. in a key East Metro District Red Division match up. The Pioneers will look to bounce back from two lopsided road losses at Tartan and Henry Sibley.
Mary Queen of Victory’s first varsity football game will make two stadium grand-opening contests for first-year Pioneers coach Peter Bercich. A former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, Bercich provides color commentary for KFAN’s coverage of Vikings games. The Vikings kick off its first regular season home game at the new US Bank Stadium on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.
Bercich, who played college football at Notre Dame, has much familiarity with Catholic schools. He also attended Providence Catholic in New Lenox, Illinois where he emerged as a prep football star.
In May, Bercich took over a Hill-Murray football program that didn’t win a regular season game in 2015. Nonetheless, he and the team have a state-of-the art facility to work with, which can’t hurt in the program’s rebuilding process.
Mary Queen of Victory has an artificial turf field and a new track surrounding it. Both came as needed changes from the previous stadium.
“We had a six-lane dirt track, basically an agriline road like at your cabin,” Hill-Murray athletic director Bill Lechner said. “We weren’t able to host a track meet or have practice for our kids at all. When it rained, it was pure mud.”
The old grass field didn’t fare much better. Late-season Pioneers football games looked like mud bowls.
“We’re on a high water table, so the grass field was great if it was 70 sunny, but it got muddy tore up so quickly like some fields do,” Lechner said.
Supporters of Hill-Murray raised the $3.5 million needed for Mary, Queen of Victory Stadium. Teams of all levels at the school, the physical education classes and the band each make use of the new stadium.