Week 7 (New York)
Just a quick trip this past week to New York on Thursday night. This was my second all-time trip to New York for a single game. And I was a little leery. Last time I drove to the Buffalo area for a Thursday game, I found out that earlier that day the game was rescheduled for another venue on the following Saturday.
Checking with Twitter though, it appeared the game between Lake Shore and West Seneca West would still be a go for Thursday. Without any particularly interesting game elsewhere in northeast Ohio or western Pennsylvania, I took the two and a half hour trip north.
Going in, I knew this game was going to be one-sided. West Seneca West was good, and Lake Shore simply wasn’t. However, it is interesting to see games in new places. And my third game in NY at a high school venue was a worthy and interesting plan despite the inevitable beat down.
The Lake Shore Eagles hailed from Angola. Anyone who has driven the New York Thruway to Buffalo has probably seen the Angola Service Plaza. The one with the walkways spanning the highway to get to the McDonalds and other stores. The school lies just a few miles west of there right near the aforementioned and eponymous lake.
Now, for a Thursday contest, the game was set to kickoff at the odd 6:30pm start. Arriving at the HS about a half hour early, it seemed like I was duped again. A soccer game was taking place in the field behind the stadium. A small gathering of cars were present with fans standing around the field or sitting in their own folding chairs.
However, walking up to the gate to the stadium, it was clear the teams were out practicing and pre-game senior night festivities had began. To an incredibly sparse crowd. What was even more strange, was that West Seneca West’s JV team was playing another school at the exact same time at home.
The ticket price was shocking. Now, I’ve gotten into stadiums for free with passes, and I’ve paid $3 for Pittsburgh City League games in the past. However, Lake Shore’s one dollar ticket is officially the cheapest ticket I’ve paid cash for for basically anything. At first, I thought I had misheard her. Surely she said something before the ‘dollar’ that wasn’t just ‘a’. There was no line. Shocked, though, I paid my dollar and started to put my change away and was asked if I wanted a program. I always buy a program. Turns out, at Lake Shore, it’s free.
There’s not much to the program. Two sheets of printed paper, folded in half to form a small pamphlet. Rosters of the teams and a list of schedule with a few sponsors and a logo on the front. Mass printed from a standard printer and not the best quality. But you can’t beat free.
Now, the stadium itself was the next shock. To call it a stadium stretches the bounds of stadiums. But, it did have the prerequisite chracteristics. A few rows of wooden bleachers capped with metal to prevent decay, however the floor boards to each row were still standard wood painted white. One major upgrade appears to be that the aisles were updated to aluminum plates. The stadium had an open, breezy and terrifying quality to it. The nearby lake to the west was providing ample wind at your back and nothing in the stadium impeded it. The home side did have a small press box open to the air. The visitor side looked no better than the home side. The few dozen fans who made the trek from the east side of Buffalo for an early Thursday game were perched precariously on the wooden stands.
With the stadium sitting north/south, the scoreboard sat in the southeast corner. A small concession stand sat in the north end of the endzone beyond the arc of the track. There didn’t appear to be bathrooms, though one single port-a-potty was provided on each side of the field.
The crowd was a few hundred strong. Though a large contingent of that came for the junior eagle cheerleaders. Little girls from the ages of 2-12, roughly, who cheered during halftime with the varsity cheerleaders. As soon as they had cleared the field, the throng of mostly mothers among others departed. The second half saw maybe 100-200 still on the home side watching the game.
Now, the game itself wasn’t really anything noteworthy. West Seneca West came out and scored easily. But, Lake Shore managed to make it 7-6 early in the game. But, that was all they could muster. The Indians of West Seneca West ran away with it, winning easily 49-6. Fans in the stands, as early as the second quarter, lamented that they just hoped they could hold them under 55. Well, they succeeded.
For those new to some of my posts, I want to talk about New York high school football. New York does not separate privates from publics. Many get the assumption they do because of two leagues. Leagues which operate outside the NYSPHSAA.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association DOES allow private schools to join. You’ll see them from time to time as Rochester Aquinas or Syracuse CBA (Christian Brothers Academy) or Utica Notre Dame are regular late round playoff participants. However, New York does things very similar to the way Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California have done things. Though, Massachusetts has since changed things statewide.
However, in New York, there are sections. Just as Pennsylvania has Districts. These Districts cover the entire state. There are 11 such Sections. Two are on Long Island (VIII & XI). VIII covers Nassau County (closest to NYC), and XI covers Suffolk County, further east.
“Mainland” New York has the other 9 sections. Starting at NYC, you have Section 1 to the east of the Hudson River, and Section 2 further north around Albany. Section 3 is the Syracuse area, while Section 4 is south of Syracuse, following along the line between Elmira and Binghamton. Section 5 is Rochester area from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania, and Section 6 is the Buffalo area south to Jamestown and west.
Section 7 is the far northeast corner near Plattsburgh, and Section 8 was Long Island. Section 1 is then split to feature Section IX on the west side of the Hudson north of New Jersey. And the last unlabeled Section is X, in the far north above Watertown, up near Malone near the Canadian border. XI as stated is eastern Long Island.
Now, there are several groups that DON’T play in the NYSPHSAA. Chief among them are the two catholic leagues. The Catholic High School Football League (CHSFL) which covers NYC and surrounding areas. The other being the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association (MMAA) which comprises the six Catholic schools around Buffalo (Canisius, St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Mary, Cardinal O’Hara, and Bishop Timon).
And the last big group not part of the NYSPHSAA is the Public School Athletic League. The PSAL comprises ALL of the New York City public schools. They do not participate in any state competition. While researching the PSAL, I discovered most of the games you cannot attend unless you go to the school or have children playing as the home team. Visiting fans or neutral fans aren’t allowed at most games. Except for the championship game. Which recently has been played at Yankees Stadium.
Until just a few years ago, there was one other group not playing in the NYSPHSAA. That was the Buffalo City Schools, who instead played for the “Harvard Cup”. However, they have recently joined Section 6.
Now, even though Long Island are members of the NYSPHSAA, Section VIII and XI do not participate in the state playoffs. Instead, they play for Long Island Championships. Pitting the VIII and XI champions against each other.
So, the NYSPHSAA state playoffs are contested by teams in ‘upstate’ New York. Meanwhile, frequently and more consistently, the MMAA champion will play the CHSFL champion in a ‘private school’ state championship. Which, as mentioned, eliminates the private schools from the middle of the state.
One facet of the NYSPHSAA setup is the uniformity and consisency of their playoffs. New York public schools only play a 7 game regular season. Virtually everyone makes the playoffs or some type of ‘consolation’ tournament. After two rounds of playoffs for most Sections, the Sectional Championship games are held mostly at predetermined locations.
Section 6 holds their titles at New Era Field in Orchard Park. Section 5 holds theirs at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. And Section 3 holds theirs at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Section 2 and 4 have regular high school venues to host games. And 1, 7, 9, and 10 usually play at higher seeds, or combine to form bigger tournaments. Especially further north.
All five games are played on the same weekend at the same place. Usually a format of Class D on Friday afternoon, Class AA on Friday night, Class C, B, and A on Saturday. Syracuse hosts games on Friday and Sunday to avoid the Syracuse University football games. Buffalo frequently plays on Thursday and Friday to avoid interfering with Bills pregame setup on Saturday.
In the next round, Section 6 plays Section 5. The games alternate each year. When Section 6 hosts, they games are at All-High Stadium in Buffalo. While historically, Rochester hosts theirs at Sahlen’s but recently started playing at HS venue. All five games. Syracuse then plays, usually, Section 4. While the eastern bloc combine to form one set of games played at various venues. Then, the next round is the same setup. Cicero-North Syracuse hosts or All-High Stadium hosts on alternating years the Western Semifinals. Usually, Kingston or somewhere near Albany hosts out east.
And the championships are held back at the Carrier Dome on Thanksgiving weekend. Though, the games are on Friday and Sunday to again avoid Syracuse athletics.
In addition to that, Syracuse’s Section 3 hosts a Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome. This past year it was 10 games over 4 days. Two on Thursday, 4 Saturday, and 4 on Sunday to work around Syracuse’s game. It is an annual tradition. And with schools only playing 7 regular season games, many of their stadiums are lacking when it comes to amenities. So, playing a large block of games at a major venue is a big deal.