‘We like to take care of our own’

Ryan Nase, who played football with Hennigar at Judge, was Greg’s best friend. Nase, the athletic director at Tacony Charter, has been an integral part in planning and promoting the tournament.

Marie and Doug Hennigar had four boys, but lost their youngest, Greg, in a 2003 car accident.

Soon after, the Gregory Hennigar Memorial Fund was formed.

In the years since, the foundation has sponsored a football tournament to raise money for local youth sports groups, nonprofit organizations and elementary and high schools.

On Saturday, the 13th annual Gregory Hennigar Memorial Football Tournament took place at Father Judge High School and Ramp Playground.

A dozen high school teams played 7-on-7 touch football, while money was raised through business and individual sponsors; raffles for a television and Beats headphones; and sales of food, T-shirts and miniature high school football helmets.

The effort made the Hennigar family proud.

“When you lose a child, you don’t want anyone to ever forget them,” Marie Hennigar said. “And Greg is not forgotten. Every year, it gets bigger. It amazes me.”

Greg Hennigar is not forgotten because of the kind of person he was.

“He was such a great kid,” his mom said. “He was funny, outgoing and had a heart of gold.”

Greg Hennigar grew up on Cresco Avenue in Holmesburg. He attended St. Dominic Elementary School and Father Judge High School. He played quarterback for Judge’s football team.

After graduating from Judge in 2002, he enrolled at Penn State as a “preferred” walk-on to the football team. He played in the annual Blue-White intrasquad game in the spring of 2003.

Sadly, on May 31 of that year, he was killed in a car accident near State Road and Linden Avenue. The entire Penn State team attended a funeral Mass in Judge’s gym, with legendary coach Joe Paterno delivering a eulogy.

Later that year, the first Gregory Hennigar Memorial Football Tournament took place, with bar-sponsored teams and other squads made up of Hennigar’s friends taking part. Even some college teams played.

“It just grew. It’s been amazing,” said Sean Hennigar, one of Greg’s older brothers. “I can’t believe it’s as strong as it is.”

The competition is pretty fierce, with Lloyd Sixsmith donating $1,000 in store credit to the winner and runner-up. On Saturday, Judge earned $750 with a 26–16 championship game victory over Bishop McDevitt. The Lancers earned $250.

Over the years, the fund has donated to youth groups such as the Bustleton Bengals, Rhawnhurst Raiders and Holmesburg Boys Club; schools such as Judge, St. Dominic, St. Jerome, John W. Hallahan and Tacony Academy Charter School; and nonprofits like the Sgt. Patrick McDonald Scholarship Fund, the American Diabetes Association, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and organizations fighting ALS and pediatric brain cancer.

“We like to take care of our own,” Sean Hennigar said.

“I’m happy it goes everywhere to charities that need it, not just football,” Marie Hennigar said.

The driving force behind the fund is Ryan Nase, Greg Hennigar’s good buddy and Judge teammate.

Nase is grateful for all the support he receives, particularly from the 40 businesses that sponsored this year’s tournament.

After 11 years of inviting bar teams and squads made up of Greg’s friends, the tournament went to a high school format in 2014. There were eight teams a year ago and 12 on Saturday. Nase is hoping for 18 to 20 in 2016.

The games were played on the school soccer field and Judge’s nice multi-purpose field at Ramp. PIAA referees officiated, and the players wore protective mouthpieces. Teams that had access to helmets in the off-season wore them.

Teams taking part were Judge, McDevitt, Abraham Lincoln, Simon Gratz, Archbishop Wood, Penn Charter, Delaware Valley Charter, Neumann-Goretti, West Catholic, Germantown Academy, William Tennent and Mastery Charter North.

Five of the teams are coached by Judge grads: Mike McKay (Judge), Pat Manzi (McDevitt), Ed McGettigan (Lincoln), Tom Coyle (Penn Charter) and Matt Dence (Germantown Academy).

“It’s been great. High school football was a passion of Greg’s,” Nase said. “There are some really good, competitive teams here.”

To keep some of Greg’s friends involved in the charity, Nase is thinking of holding a golf tournament or a beef-and-bowl

Either way, the fund will continue to provide money for existing organizations, and it will make anonymous donations when it learns of a need.

“The charity is there for families in Northeast Philly in need,” Nase said.

Participants enjoyed getting in some practice on a sunny day and helping the fund.

“We’re supporting a cause, and the kids are competing and having fun,” said McKay, Judge’s coach.

Judge junior quarterback Rob King was among some current and future high school stars taking part, and he was happy to help the Crusaders win the tournament for the second year in a row.

“It’s nice weather, and it’s fun to meet everybody. We can work on our pass offense, and I can read coverages,” he said.

McGettigan, the Lincoln coach, and his son, who plays for Germantown Academy, gave up some Jersey shore time to pay tribute to Hennigar.

“This is a good thing,” McGettigan said. “People talk about Greg in really nice ways. This is a really well-run tournament. Ryan does a nice job.”

Tom Coyle, now at Penn Charter, coached Hennigar in his junior and senior years at Judge. He described a young man who battled injuries in high school, gave up Senior Week to get ready for college football and was on his way to a nice career at Penn State.

The tournament is bittersweet for Coyle.

“This brings back some great memories, and it saddens you. It was a tragedy that a young life was cut short,” he said. “Greg saw the big picture. He knew the sacrifices necessary to be a player at Penn State.” ••

To make a donation, go to www.hennigarmemorial.com

A dozen high school teams played 7-on-7 touch football, while money was raised through business and individual sponsors; raffles for a television and Beats headphones; and sales of food, T-shirts and miniature high school football helmets.

Twelve schools participated in the 7-on-7 tournament games, including Penn Charter, where Tom Coyle, Hennigar’s coach at Judge, now coaches.

Never forgotten: On Saturday, the 13th annual Gregory Hennigar Memorial Football Tournament took place at Father Judge High School and Ramp Playground. Greg died in a 2003 car accident. At left, his mother, Marie, and brother, Sean, attended the tournament. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS