A formal wear football game in Boston raises money for veterans’ charity

Most fall football players are dressed in full pads and a helmet. But on Saturday at Rogers Park in Brighton, Mark Mitchell favored a sparkly gold suit.

The 38-year-old former college football player, who played for Dean and Mount Ida universities, was competing in his fourth year with Three Piece Suit Football. The annual benefit event has been held every October in Boston since 2014 after starting in Atlanta. And, as the name implies, all the players were dressed in formal wear that went through the full-contact buzzer, American football.

Playing quarterback for the red team (the other side was aptly named the blue team), Mitchell had a unique insight into how difficult it was to throw the ball in attire more suited to the club than the gridiron in what It turned out to be an unusually warm day.

“Especially with this metallic suit, it’s very hot. It’s like an oven, man. It’s very hot,” Mitchell said, adding that the heat wasn’t the only challenge. “Throwing a soccer ball in a suit, because you can’t get full range of motion in your arm… that’s probably the hardest part.”

It was a scene unlike most others in sports history. But for those involved, there was good reason to risk their bodies while wearing their Sunday clothes.

The purpose of the event was to raise money for Operation Delta Dog, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that trains rescue dogs to be service animals for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.

Cameron Miller, who grew up in Georgia, brought three-piece football to Boston while finishing his psychology doctorate program and working at Veterans Affairs hospitals in Jamaica Plain and Brockton. While Miller was here, his Boston friends saw what the Atlanta chapter of Three Piece Suit Football had become since early 2009, and wanted to start a local branch.

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Victor Morency, one of Miller’s friends, has lived all over the Boston area and helped get the Boston game off the ground. At least 200 people gathered at the park on Saturday to watch the game, something that would have seemed like a long shot when Three Piece Suit Football came to town in 2014.

“I mean, when we started, there were like five or six people, and they’re just our closest friends,” Morency said. “I don’t know the exact numbers for this year, but I think this is the most people we’ve ever had and also consistent participation, which is also good. We still have people signing up, like, in the fourth quarter, which That has never happened.”

The event, unsurprisingly, had a carnival atmosphere with bizarre outfits, ranging from a leopard print outfit to a more classic prom look. On the sidelines, Morency was decked out in an Eddie Murphy-esque McDowell uniform from “Coming to America.” Then there was the game’s mascot, Ronnie Peaches, who wowed the crowd with a custom peach jacket, hat and cane.

Players make a tackle during the three-piece soccer game at Rogers Park

Stephen Bustillos

The Blue team lines up to play during Saturday’s three piece soccer match in Brighton.

Stephen Bustillos

Ronald Gupton, better known as Ronnie Peaches, is in the three-piece football game.

Stephen Bustillos

Juno sits in on the three-piece football game in Brighton. Juno is the service animal of Heather Kosakowski, who served five years in the Marine Corps.

Stephen Bustillos

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The game itself was just as weird as the outfits. Seven players from each side pummeled each other on a 70-yard field as two emcees made comments that doubled as friendly boos from the sidelines. While there were umpires, the competition was more like a backyard football game, with lots of scrambling from quarterbacks in the backfield for wide receivers and lots of fumbles.

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Emily Mangiaratti, who plays roller derby and participated in her first three-piece game on Saturday, is a dog trainer at Operation Delta Dog. Mangiaratti said that she appreciated the physicality of the game.

“It’s intense,” he said. “These guys are really rolling here, we’re really playing real football, which is great, because I don’t really know the rules of football very well, but I’m learning it fast.”

Mangiaratti said the event helped bring attention to what Operation Delta Dog does.

And the results speak for themselves: Founder Miller said they’ve raised about $60,000 for Operation Delta Dog in the past seven years since the Boston event.

Heather Kosakowski, who served five years in the Marine Corps and has PTSD, benefits directly from that association. She recently graduated from Operation Delta Dog with her service animal Juno, a 3-year-old black Labrador retrieved from Alabama. Both were in the game on Saturday. Kosakowski said it was humbling to see the crowd.

Heather Kosakowski with her service dog, Juno, at the three-piece American football game in Brighton.

Esteban Bustillos / GBH News

“There were many years where I felt alone and isolated and no one understood or cared,” Kosakowski said. “But through Operation Delta Dog and events like this, I can see that there is a whole world of people who, even though they can’t really understand, really care. And then that, I don’t know, gives me the creeps. It’s great that there are so many people with so much heart.”

At the end of the day, there wasn’t a suit on the field that wasn’t torn, stained or bloody. The Blue Team defeated the Red Team 31-20 in what was described as one of the most competitive games in the history of the event. But afterwards, both teams came together to shake hands and stand together in midfield, having achieved something much more than a bizarre game of soccer.

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