After a long period of delay and uncertainty, the Bulldogs of Burgard Vocational High School finally had the victory banquet they so craved Sunday.
The 1998 Harvard Cup champions and their supporters were feted in high style in E.B. Green's Steakhouse in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
It almost didn't happen for the high school football champions after they had failed to raise the funds needed to hold the celebration on May 20 as originally planned.
But as was the case in their 24-6 upset victory over previously undefeated McKinley High School last Thanksgiving Day, the young men learned that perseverance does triumph over adversity.
"At least it's taking place," Joseph Little, a 14-year-old sophomore and defensive tackle, said as he videotaped his Bulldogs teammates entering E.B. Green's for the long-delayed victory banquet.
It was Joseph who appealed to top city officials, and even the president of the United States, last spring when the team came up $225 short of the $1,500 needed to pay for the banquet. They had been selling tickets for $15 apiece, but enthusiasm for their effort had apparently begun to wane days before the event.
"All they needed was a little help," said Deborah Little, Joseph's mother. "The bigger schools, such as McKinley and Hutch-Tech, had won the Harvard Cup before, and they knew how to organize these banquets."
Burgard, a small school with only about 480 students, had twice before tied for the championship, but had never before been victorious in the 94-year history of the Harvard Cup.
"This was unprecedented for Burgard, so it was a big thing," said Mrs. Little. "They wanted a celebration of their own, and they deserved it. They had worked hard for it."
A brunch organized for the team by the Burgard Parent-Teacher Organization earlier this year was appreciated, Joseph said, but it is customary for the Harvard Cup champs to have a banquet, and he didn't want to see the team denied one after working so hard for it.
A letter from Joseph to Common Council President James W. Pitts helped to eventually elicit support from local businessman
Paul L. Snyder, owner of E.B. Green's, and another supporter, Jane Cox Hettrick.
"I think they (the Burgard Bulldogs are) terrific," Snyder said Sunday. "This is just a small reward to say, yeah, maybe it was worth it. I'll bet they never dreamed that it would be like this, though."
Seated in the elegant restaurant, the young men, their parents and their coaches were entertained by lounge singer Jackie Jocko on the piano.
Later, Joseph presented Burgard football coach Ron Pugh a letter from President Clinton to the Bulldogs team.
"It has been said that the athlete does not embark on a sport, but a way of life," the letter read. "Through individual exercise, we gain discipline and perseverance. From group sports we learn the invaluable lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship."
Joseph said the letter, matted and framed in the red, white and blue Bulldogs team colors, will be displayed at the school next to the Harvard Cup.