Hennigar tournament honors friend while helping others

Greg Hennigar starred at Father Judge and later played at Penn State. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For those who knew him, it would be impossible to forget Greg Hennigar.

Hennigar was a star quarterback at Father Judge High School who went on to play for Penn State University. But if you talk to any one of his friends or family, football is never the first thing they bring up.

The first thing they’ll tell you is what kind of person he is, and that’s why his memory has stayed alive and well, even 18 years after he died in a car accident.

But because of his friends, including Ryan Nase, who was his teammate at Judge, Hennigar isn’t just remembered by those who knew him.

Nase is making sure kids learn about him every day.

“It’s weird because this is the 18th year, so now he’s been dead as long as he’s been alive,” said Nase, the former head coach at Cheltenham High School who protected Hennigar at Judge when he started on the offensive line. “If you knew Greg, two things he absolutely loved were family and the neighborhood. So we wanted to do something that would honor him and something that he would love.”

On July 8, Nase and his friends will be doing something their friend would really love. That’s when the 18th Annual Gregory Hennigar Memorial Tournament will be held at Ramp Playground across the street from the school.

The tournament has changed many times through the years and every year it’s gotten bigger and bigger. This year that isn’t the case. Because of restrictions that were in place in Philadelphia due to the pandemic, Nase had to make a call to scale it back a little this year, but the important thing is it’s going to happen.

This year, the tournament will consist of six high school teams — Father Judge, Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Wood, Northeast, Frankford and Truman — that will compete in the seven-on-seven showcase. All teams will play four games, and there will be a winners and consolation bracket for a championship.

“This year’s should be great, we love having it at Ramp because that’s where Greg played,” Nase said. “We’ve moved out of Ramp, which we didn’t want to do, but you only have the one field. This year, because of restrictions, we had to keep it centralized, and it is smaller, but you have some of the best football teams, not just in the area, but in the state.

“It’s a great group of teams. Northeast and Wood should be two of the best teams. Judge meant so much to Greg, and Ryan is a great team. We have a great relationship with Frankford and this year, I grew close with Truman because (Cheltenham) didn’t play in the spring and neither did Truman, so we bonded over that.

“We’re really happy Judge is involved and I can’t thank Frank (McArdle, Judge’s coach) enough for keeping the tradition alive. We’re happy for all the teams being involved. As a coach, I know it’s hard for coaches to come out to things like this, especially in a year like this. We’re really happy.”

It will certainly be different this year for Nase, who recently spent tournament days on the sidelines, coaching. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be busy this year.

He’ll also have a great time seeing people.

On top of the day being great for high school football, every year it’s a reunion of sorts for friends and family of Hennigar.

“A lot of people moved out of the area, either moved away or we don’t see each other that much, so this is a great day for everyone to just get together,” Nase said. “Greg would love this. His sense of humor was enamoring. He was that guy, and really his brothers and family are the same way, they bring people together. This is what Greg was all about. He thrived in situations like this, and loved St. Dom’s, Father Judge and his neighborhood. The tournament gives us an opportunity to keep that going.”

It also does great things for the community.

The event, through T-shirt sales, raises money for the Gregory Hennigar Memorial Fund Inc., a nonprofit aimed at aiding youth and amateur athletics as well as families in need from Northeast Philadelphia.

“When we first started 18 years ago, it was all for money to raise money for youth and amateur athletics,” Nase said. “But as we progressed as an organization, we are helping other things, including students who want a Catholic education. There are a lot of people who would love to receive that education, but because of some sort of difficulty, death of a parent, illness, injury, they have trouble affording it. We are stepping up, helping families from the neighborhood.”

It’s good to give back, but for Nase, it’s even nicer to give back while keeping Hennigar’s memory alive.

Nase rarely goes a day without talking about his friend, and every player who competes in the tournament learns about the Judge great. That makes Nase exceptionally proud.

“Greg impacted everyone who met him, and our goal is to teach people about him that were born after he left us,” Nase said. “That’s our goal, for players, especially in the Northeast and Father Judge, to understand who he was, what he was about and live that mission of being a Judge Guy. For us, that’s a big deal. He epitomizes what it is to be a Judge Guy and we want them to emulate that.”

Games will start at 5 p.m. at Ramp Playground. To purchase a T-shirt, visit https://forms.gle/E1XyJ5nzheFSYpYM9.

For the first time in nine years, Ryan Nase won’t be coaching in the tournament, but he’ll stay plenty busy. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO