Classmates, friends remember Tony McKenna
As former Mariner High football coach Joe Roles reflects back on the 1989 football season, he believes the team could have won a few more games if they had their enthusiastic, muscle-bound leader, Tony McKenna, roaming the field at middle linebacker.
Under the extraordinary circumstances following McKenna’s tragic death — three days before the start of that season — the Tritons still managed to pull together and finish with a 7-3 record.
Twenty years later, though, that team’s bond is as strong as ever and it’s what Roles is most proud of — not the wins and losses.
“It’s not just about football, it’s about how they felt about each other and how they felt about the school, and the love and respect they have for the McKennas,” said Roles, who is now a principal at Gateway Charter.
Many of the players from that ’89 team, along with former classmates and friends, congregated Friday to remember McKenna.
The school honored McKenna and rededicated the football field, which is named after the former Triton standout.
McKenna was struck by lightning on the practice field and died on Sept. 5, 1989.
He’s remained a big part of the tradition at Mariner. The Tritons award a memorial scholarship in his name, and his uniform, including the No. 55 jersey, still hangs in the locker room.
It’s his hard-work and dedication that stood out, said former teammate and friend Jeff Cindrich.
“Tony was definitely the strength of the team, he had so much ambition,” said Cindrich, who lives in Cape Coral.
McKenna’s family, including his parents Dick and Jean, still attend Triton games.
They moved to the area approximately 35 years ago.
Tony was the youngest of three brothers and three sisters.
“He was very dynamic,” said his sister, Maryann.
His father, Dick McKenna, said Tony was too small to play football when he was younger and started out in soccer. Due to his strong work ethic, he continued to get stronger and better as a player.
“That’s all he ever wanted to do is play football,” said Dick McKenna.
There were hundreds of people who gathered Friday for the McKenna rededication ceremony, which included the unveiling of a new obelisk and commemorative plate.
Some of his former coaches weren’t able to attend, like current East Lee County coach Scott Jones, who had a game Friday night.
Jones, an assistant coach on the Mariner staff that season, gave a video tribute to McKenna.
“We have some of the best people in the world here,” Dick McKenna said. “After Tony got killed they came together as a family and tried to make something good out of it, and it gave Mariner a lot of spirit.”