‘Always a smile on his face’: Pomperaug honors teammate in opener with New Milford’s help

NEW MILFORD — With two No. 13 jerseys hanging near midfield, one white and green, the other red and white, the teams lined up for the faceoff to open the boys lacrosse season Saturday morning, then went to a knee.

Owen Henry stood up from the draw, took the ball and jogged to the corner opposite the Pomperaug bench, where he handed the ball to the family of Ryan Rutledge, a Pomperaug junior and lacrosse teammate who died Monday in a one-vehicle crash in Southbury.

“We ... did everything as normal, then gave the ball to the family with Ryan’s sticker and the Pomperaug logo on it — a nice little tribute to him,” Henry said. “He was just a great guy, always had smile on face. He always came to work. He’s everything a Pomperaug Panther is. We all miss him.”

Henry shared a brief embrace with Panthers defender Dave Evans, one of Rutledge’s closest friends, he said. Then the teams lined up again and played their first game since 2019, a 10-9 New Milford victory.

Pomperaug coach Steve Malusa credited New Milford and the referees for the idea for the ceremony to honor the family and Rutledge.

“He’s a hard character to miss,” Malusa said. “The consistency of his smile — if you talk to a lot of people, the smile is what they’ll mention, his personality. Just a warm soul. I’m just happy to have known him, happy to have a chance to take some time with him.”

Rutledge’s red No. 13 jersey hung on the fence behind the Panthers’ bench. From the scorer’s table, New Milford’s No. 13 jersey faced the field.

“Nobody wore 13 today. It’s going to be one of our guys’ numbers,” Green Wave coach Evan Cassells said. “We wanted to pay our respects. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the kid who passed. We had 13s on our chin straps too, to keep respect.

“We had to do this with class. We’re in this thing together.”

Rutledge’s death notice says he was a high-honors student involved in several sports, music, sailing and chess among an assortment of favorite activities. His Mass of Christian Burial was Friday in Southbury.

Then Saturday, the Panthers took the field, doing all they could to honor him, Henry said.

“In terms of settling their minds, I think the turf field and lacrosse, for them is an outlet,” Malusa said. “It’s definitely a way for these boys to transfer their emotions to something, and that is extremely important.”

The game was close throughout. Neither team led by more than two, Pomperaug 3-1 early and New Milford 8-6 and 10-8.

Goalie Danny Gallagher made a big save for New Milford early in the fourth quarter to keep Pomperaug from taking its first lead since halftime, and Jake Wilton had six points.

“We’re an extremely young team,” Cassells said. “Showing that composure, the ability to respond when they went up — it was a game of runs today. Being able not to give up, not walk away with our tail between our legs but continue to fight, continue to put the ball in the net, was exactly what we needed.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp


POMPERAUG3 2 1 3—9

NEW MILFORD2 2 4 2—10

Records: Pomperaug 0-1; New Milford 1-0.