Districts join forces to create varsity football programs
SCHENECTADY Colin Kenyon remembers when he and the rest of the football players from Schoharie and Duanesburg gathered for their first junior varsity practice last summer.
“Coach came in and said ‘We’re a family,’ and we kept that through the school year,” the Duanesburg junior quarterback recalled. “You share a bond, and you never lose it.”
Those young athletes together took a history-making step Saturday when they not only played their first varsity game but prevailed.
Three players from each school had a direct hand in the touchdowns in Schoburg’s 32-0 non-league win over Section II’s other combined Class D program, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons/Saratoga Central Catholic.
“We’re rival schools in every sport we play but football,” said Kenyon. “On this team, we’re family. If someone messes up, it’s on to the next play. You’ve got to focus.”
Schoburg coach Ken Meyer has been bringing kids from small communities together to play since 2005, when he helped found Duanesburg Pop Warner. The success of that grass-roots program led to his push for a self-funded junior varsity program.
Meyer’s JV team won six games and late last season met varsity squads from Warrensburg and Green Tech, losing to both in close games.
“This has been a dream, to see this,” Meyer said. “The next step is to see one of our kids go on to play college ball. Maybe someone will see Drew Rice and think ‘maybe he can catch the ball for us.’ ”
Rice and Kevin Lenahan caught touchdown passes from Kenyon, their Duanesburg schoolmate, in Saturday’s victory. Connor Brown of Schoharie ran for the game’s first touchdown, and two of his schoolmates scored on defensive plays, with William Moore pouncing on a fumble in the end zone and Andrew Nay returning an interception for a touchdown.
“There was no one standout,” said Roger Tidball, Schoburg’s modified-level coach. “It was a team effort all around.”
“They’re doing real good, especially for the first game,” Schoburg modified team member Jacob Meyer said after his dad’s Indian Eagles had built a 13-0 halftime lead. “For just starting on the [August] 19th, this is amazing. It makes me really, really want to play. I can’t wait to start hitting.”
Based on player interest from each school, the Schoburg kids wouldn’t be able to hit, run and tackle without each other.
“I like this Duanesburg and Schoharie thing,” said Bud Kenyon, the former Hoosick Falls, Guilderland and Greenwich coach, who was at the game to watch his grandson play. “This gives kids a chance.”
Meyer, who played at Schalmont and previously coached in the Rotterdam Pop Warner league, is modest about his role.
“I’ve got to be honest. It’s about those kids,” he said. “We’re letting them know we care about them.”
“This is a great opportunity for kids who wouldn’t have that opportunity,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey, whose son, Peter, is a Schoburg varsity assistant. “It’s a challenging situation for both of the teams here, but there’s enough desire.”
Spa Catholic did not field a varsity team last season and would have called off this season, too, due to a lack of available players. That led to the merger with Bishop Gibbons, which has struggled with low numbers for years.
“I’ve had a great relationship with Saratoga Catholic for some time. It was a match made in heaven,” said Pat Moran, Bishop Gibbons’ athletic director. “It’s about giving kids an opportunity to play and community-building.”
The Sainted Knights hurt themselves in Saturday’s game with eight turnovers.
“You’re not going to win anything with eight turnovers,” said Sainted Knights coach John Barber. “I’m disappointed with that, but the kids kept fighting through. The guys stuck together, and that was important. There were some positives.”
The two programs came together to play Saturday’s game after their scheduled season openers were called off. Schoburg was slated to play Salem and Bishop Gibbons/Spa Catholic was to meet Fort Edward, but those teams forfeited just days into preseason workouts when not enough of their players could fulfill practice requirements. The Indian Eagles and the Sainted Knights, both member of the Class D South Division, will meet again in Week 6 at Schoharie.
“Within two days, the game was set,” said Moran. “We went to the coaches first, got the officials, and we were all set. We all wanted to play the game.”
The Indian Eagles scored on their second drive when Brown, the team’s senior fullback, bolted in from the one-yard line. Brown’s brother, Kyle, scored the first touchdown of the season for the Schoburg junior varsity team last year.
“It’s great to be part of this,” Colin Kenyon beamed. “Schoharie hasn’t had a [varsity] team since the ’70s, and Duanesburg has never had a team. You put the work in, and you get results. It’s an amazing feeling.”