After the Holy Trinity football team's fieldhouse was destroyed in a fire last year, coach John Barber and principal Peter Fusco of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady knew they'd rebuild. They just didn't know how that would happen.

The team, which includes students from both ND-BG and Catholic Central High School in Troy, didn't have to worry. Even as they were dealing with the shock last October of discovering that arsonists had torched the building, local businesses, schools and individuals were coming forward to offer their services and donations.

On Sept. 1 at 7 p.m., the Holy Trinity team will play a home game against Chatham, their first of the season -- with a brand-new fieldhouse on the ND-BG campus that's bigger and better than the old one.

"This is a football community," Coach Barber explained. Though a crime like this can shake people's faith, he said, this one boosted it: "Even that morning, I knew we would be OK."

The fieldhouse burned down Oct. 21, 2016, the day before the Holy Trinity team's first-ever playoff game. Lost in the fire was more than $80,000 worth of equipment and uniforms, in addition to the building itself. The total damage was estimated at $500,000.

Carrying on
The team did finish the season, using some borrowed equipment and some replacements donated by supporters. A GoFundMe online donation site brought in tens of thousands of dollars; school officials fielded offers of help from all over the Capital Region, many from alumni.

Reconstruction began quickly, with PCC Contracting of Schen­ectady taking over the project management. The local plumbers' and electrical workers' unions volunteered to help; Crawford Door and Window donated all the windows and doors for the building. Home Depot and Dick's Sporting Goods were among other businesses that helped get the team back on its feet.

"All the work, all the people that supported us - it makes you feel good inside," Coach Barber told The Evangelist.

Good to go
The new fieldhouse was finished just in time for the start of this season. It's got a weight room, offices and a locker room -- with lockers built by Coach Barber, who also built the old lockers, along with his son, assistant head coach William Headen and the parents of some students.

In the old building, "we could barely fit five or six people in the room. This morning, 25 kids were in there, working out all at once," Coach Barber reported after a team practice for the 46-member lineup.

Last fall, team members like Sam Locke were stunned by what they called "so much evil right in our backyard." Now, the Holy Trinity athletes are "very upbeat, excited," Coach Barber said. "On the first day, you could see it on their faces." When they started training in the new fieldhouse, "they fell in love with the place."

The team's and school officials' thoughts do turn occasionally to Shameek McDuffie, Joseph Riordan and Francis Civitello, who were arrested in November and charged with the crime. Shameek, who was 19 at the time, was convicted of actually setting the fire and sentenced to one and a third to four years in prison.

"They're in the back of my mind every day," Coach Barber said. "I still don't know why" they did it.

Pray for them
Mr. Fusco said that, if anyone at ND-BG or Catholic Central thinks about the perpetrators, it's only to "pray for their well-being.

"There's people in this world that do dumb things," he said, but the community support the Holy Trinity team has received outweighs that by far.

"Although they did something regrettable, we pray that they learn from their mistake and become better people, and we move on," the principal stated.

Next up
Coach Barber is taking that to heart. Out of the ashes of the fire, he believes, will come an even better athletic program. He wants to see Holy Trinity, which finished last season with a 5-2 record, win a Section II Class C title.

The coach pointed to the new press box that was also built on the ND-BG campus, thanks to sponsors and donations: "This is now one of the top facilities in the Section II area," he declared.

But "the field needs to be improved. That's my next project. My fundraising now will go to the field. It's important for the kids to have the best facilities, the safest facilities -- a place they can be proud of."