Hours before kickoff on a steamy Saturday afternoon in Columbus, the family of homegrown defender Alex Crognale gathered in the parking lot of MAPFRE Stadium.
This wasn’t like prior tailgates for the Crognale family. It was particularly special as Alex’s grandfather, Henri, was the honoree for this event.
Henri, a veteran of World War II, celebrated his 97th birthday this past week. As an avid supporter of Crew SC, Henri particularly enjoys rooting for Wil Trapp, Zack Steffen and of course his grandson Alex on match days.
Alex’s mother, Karen, and father, Corey, organized the tailgate and welcomed numerous members of the Crognale, Steffen and Trapp families to the party. Many partygoers were quick to acknowledge Henri, converse with him and thank him for his service to the United States during such a difficult time in the nation’s history.
The apex of the evening came at halftime as Crew SC went into the locker room deadlocked in a 0-0 match with the Philadelphia Union. Henri was under the impression that he was being honored by the team at halftime and he was correct.
However, there would be a wrinkle in this plot. The Crognale family met with Arica Kress, the vice president of marketing and communications for the Black & Gold, to organize a special moment for Henri before the second half kicked off.
Kress arranged for a video message from Alex to his grandfather that was played during the break. The message played on the scoreboard of MAPFRE Stadium as the defender wished his grandfather a “Happy birthday” and expressed his love and admiration for the WWII vet.
Henri was presented with a customized black Crew SC kit complete with Alex’s name and number on the back of the uniform. In recognition of Henri’s military service, Crew SC customized the jersey with the camouflage numbers the team used during the July 1st match against Atlanta United.
Even Union manager Jim Curtin had kind words for Henri, thanking him for what he’s given to our the country.
After the final whistle, the Crognale family retreated back to their tailgate spot in the VIP parking lot, where they talked about the gritty 1-0 victory.
After showers and postgame duties, the group was joined by Alex, goalkeeper Steffen, Trapp and Crew SC winger Niko Hansen as they celebrated a great man and an American hero.
I was approached by the Crognale family to cover this event and I couldn't be more honored to meet such a great individual like Henri.
It was an absolute pleasure and I hope that our paths may cross again.