An open gate with an open heart

In his typical purple and yellow Lions Club polo and hat, Louie Ceriani pumps up players, parents and fans of Dexter sports on a regular basis. In his 85th year of living in Dexter, Ceriani has continually supported Dexter in everything he does.

About 30 years ago the Dexter Lions Club started to raise money to offer scholarships to students and volunteer in the Dexter community, especially in athletics. The Lion’s Club was asked by the late Al Ritt to help volunteer at football games. Ceriani, a member from the start of it,  just wanted to have one, important job at the games.

“Al Ritt asked the Lions Club to help with the football and of course we agreed,” Ceriani said. “I said I wanted the gate for when the players come out and onto the field and give them a little ra ra and a smack on the butt as they roll through to wish them luck. That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want anything else but to just do that for the players.”

Years later, former football coach Tom Barbieri recognized Ceriani’s passion and honored him by officially naming the entrance gate for the players, “Louie’s Gate.”

“Louie is all about community,” Barbieri said. “Louie was a person you could go to if players needed money for football camps. He’s always made the players proud to play for Dexter.”

Ceriani said his passion for Dexter stems especially from the fact that he’s lived here almost his entire life. He moved to Dexter in 1928. Eighty-five years ago. He’s currently 86. Between being 18 months old and 13 years old Ceriani had 12 operations due do birth defects. While he doesn’t still have symptoms of these problems, he still has visible scars from them.

“I came to Dexter when I was 15 months old,” he said.  “I was placed in a foster home just outside of Dexter. I was separated from my family because I had health conditions where I had to go to the hospital for a series of operations. At point before the operations the doctor said I would never be able to walk. But here I am.”

When Ceriani was in high school at Dexter, he was the manager of the football, basketball and baseball teams. In 1946, Ceriani’s senior year, Dexter football went unbeaten and un-scored-upon while tying one game with Brighton 0-0. And it’s Ceriani’s passion for Dexter football that’s even more enhanced by his own experiences at DHS.

“This job means everything to me,” he said. “If I couldn’t be here, I’d be lost. Even if I don’t know the players, it just seems to be a part of me with football and basketball. The camaraderie with the players and also the people as they walk by. Maybe the biggest thrill I get is when a former player comes back and comes up and shakes my hand. They could be out of school 10 or 12 years, and they still know who I am.”

But Ceriani says the best part is just being a part of it all.

“Just being here,” he said. “Being part of the crowd and the game. Hear all that hollering and screaming and hoping we make a touchdown. That’s the best part.”

Ceriani doesn’t just support football with loads of passion. He’s shown full support to other sports including basketball. Current Athletic Director and long-time women’s basketball coach, Mike Bavineau said Ceriani is vital to his women’s basketball team and Dexter Athletics as a whole.

“He’s our super fan,” Bavineau said. “He came to every women’s game this year and before every game he came up to each girl and give them a little pep talk and to beat the opponent that they were facing. He’s really done a lot for athletics in Dexter, and that’s why he’s so looked up to and admired by our student athletes.”

And Ceriani said he loves everything about the town.

“Like football, it means everything to me,” he said. “I’ve never wanted to leave. Maybe one day my health will get bad, and I’ll have to go into a home or something. But I don’t want to think about that. I want to live today. Tomorrow will come.”

Dexter Lion’s Club, in its 34th year of operation as a volunteer and community service organization in Dexter, has also been a big part of Ceriani’s life. In fact, he’s never missed a meeting.

“One of the biggest things we’re proud of is our $1,000 scholarship that we offer to future college students at Dexter,” Ceriani said. (High school students can fill out applications for the $1,000 scholarship on dexterlions.org.)

Dexter Lion Michael Scott said that Ceriani is very dedicated to his community and it shows through his constant volunteering and selflessness.

“Louie Ceriani is known in the village of Dexter as a friend many can turn to,” Scott said.  “As part of the Dexter Lions, Lion Lou embodies all that our club and community aspires to be. His generosity, kindness and selflessness touch many yet he expects nothing in return. Whenever there needs to be a volunteer, extra set of hands, you name it, Louie’s there always with a smile on his face. He has the biggest heart than anyone I’ve known. Not many people stretch themselves as far for the health, happiness and welfare of this community.”