This morning, the NCAA’s Atlantic Coast Conference announced that Duke University and the University of North Carolina would no longer be playing basketball against each other.
Ha! Just kidding!!
Of course Duke and UNC are going to keep playing each other! I mean, what league would be so stupid as to discontinue its signature rivalry, the one thing that separates it from all the other conferences in the country. Nobody could be that foolish, right?
This past week, the men and women in charge of the Livingston County high school football league announced that the nearly 100-year rivalry between the Caledonia-Mumford Red Raiders and the Oatkan Knights of Leroy would be coming to an end to effectuate a realignment of the league’s divisions. It is a decision of such staggering myopia that one is tempted to look around for the video cameras. It has to be a practical joke. I keep expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind a tree and tell me I’ve been punked.
The best small-school football in the state of New York is played in the Livingston County League. The county is filled with dedicated players and coaches who work their tails off to compete. But two programs, Leroy and Cal-Mum, stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Section V has been awarding sectional football championships since 1977. That makes 38 years worth of trophies. In 25 of those years, either Cal-Mum or Leroy has won a sectional title. In four of those years, BOTH schools won a championship. The two schools have combined for 29 Section V championships (Leroy 15, Cal-Mum 14). All of the other schools in the county have combined for a total of 17. For 14 years in a row (1991-2004) at least one of the two schools won a sectional championship.
Only two schools from the league have won state football championships. Care to guess which two? If you guessed Cal-Mum and Leroy, give yourself a gold star. Cal-Mum has 4, and Leroy has 1. During Leroy’s state championship year, their only loss was to Cal-Mum, and the Raiders won a state championship that year, too.
Through it all, they played each other every year. Each fall, for one Friday night, all of Section V turned its attention to our little corner of the world to watch two towns buckle up and do battle between the white lines. There were some legendary games along the way.
There was the night in 1976 when Cal-Mum was leading at home and the stadium lights went out. When they turned the lights back on, Leroy dominated the rest of the game and won going away. There was October of 1977, when a heavily favored Knights team got shut out 19-0 by the Raiders at Leroy. I was there for both of those games, and I can still tell you how sweet it was when we won and how terrible it was when we lost. But every year was special.
It was a family affair. In Caledonia, there were the Poles brothers and fifty years’ worth of Cappotellis and Pullyblanks. In Leroy, there were the Pangrazios and the Whitings. A Cal-Mum Cappotelli even married a Leroy Pangrazio. I did a reading from the Bible at that wedding (in Leroy). Paul Brandes and Mike Tucci, two of my Cal-Mum heroes, grew up and moved to Leroy. Both of their sons played against us. Frank Ruane left his job as head football coach at Cal-Mum and went to coach at Leroy.
I can remember walking to the game with my pals, all jacked up to watch Mike Tucci, Don Carpenter and Richie Brown run over the Knights. Within a quarter mile of the field we could see the lights, and hear legendary PA announcer Bob Pullyblank warming up. Somewhere in Leroy right now there is a guy my age who remembers just as well a night when the Leroy boys got the best of it. And, though I might not know him, I still resent him for it…respectfully.
The two teams were locked together in a never-ending (we thought) annual civil war, and on game night, you could set off a bomb in the business district of either town without hurting anyone. In years when both teams were powerhouses, the stands would be jammed, and people ringed the field four or five deep to watch the game standing up. Name another event that would bring four to five thousand of us together for two and a half hours.
And now they want to tell us it’s over.What is it that gets into the heads of people who make these decisions?
Two things are certain. First, there is a way to set up the schedule so that these two teams can carry on a tradition that means so much to the people of both communities, and to the league as a whole. But, more importantly, there is no way to couch this decision as being in the best interest of the kids. No logical gymnastics can replace the memories that are being taken away from the athletes.
Talk to the guys who have played in the games. It might have been last fall, or it might have been in 1971, but every one of them can reel off the stories of his senior year game against the cross-border rival. People from all over Western NY came to watch these two titans collide. Now…they won’t. The lights are out. The party is over.
I refuse to believe it. It has to be an elaborate, and cruel, hoax. It’s just too ridiculous to be true. No reasonable person would even consider ending this tradition.
There are seven months between now and the 2015 season. Surely, between now and then, someone will come to their senses and see that this is an obscenity. Somehow, Dorothy will wake up back in Kansas with Auntie Em assuring her that it was all just a dream. No offense, but Stevie Wonder could see that this decision is extraordinarily foolish.
For the first, and hopefully the only, time in my life, I would be happy to see Ashton Kutcher.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: LETCHWORTH WON A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2010. I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT INCLUDING THEM IN THE DISCUSSION ABOVE. I SIMPLY FORGOT.
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PHOTO CAPTION: Cal Mum vs LeRoy in 2013. (Photo/ John Spaulding)