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Elves at work on football nonleaguers

Dear Santa,

I know I asked for this last year, but I did the same thing as a kid and sometimes it worked.

All I wanted for Christmas last year was a St. Joe's-Orchard Park football game. Well, it's on my list again. Can we please have some nonleague games between the best public schools and the best Catholic schools in football next year?

We know there were some public-Catholic nonleaguers this past season, which was a great step forward, but people want to see teams like St. Joe's and St. Francis play teams like OP, North Tonawanda or Lancaster. Or Timon/St. Jude against Lackawanna. Or Cardinal O'Hara against Sweet Home.

St. Mary's athletic director Kevin Kelleher founded the AdPro Team Sports Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge in basketball four years ago, and by all accounts this past weekend's version was another great event.

The two leagues split the eight games, and it included a contest that will likely rank among the year's best of the regular season (St. Joe's back-and-forth, last-minute, 58-57 win over Sweet Home). Participants and fans raved about the drama, action and performances in a game that will only make both teams better and prepare them for tight games in the postseason.

They'd be doing that for football, too.

Kelleher has talked with Section VI football chairman Chuck Funke about trying to create a similar event in football, with the highest hopes being for a multiple-game event at the University at Buffalo or All High Stadium.

Funke has said that it's certainly possible to set up weekends of nonleague games, especially for Class AA schools that played three nonleague games this past season.

All he needs is for those public schools to say yes.

And there it is. Section VI schools, from the coaches up to the superintendents, it's time to say yes to playing the Catholics in football. Make it happen. Call Chuck Funke and tell them you want to be part of a great high school event for Western New York. If you're not, you're going to have to explain why you're keeping local football from being as good as it can be.

We realize there are some grudges around here. But here's the thing, Section VI schools: You've already won. Catholic schools aren't part of the section and most likely never will be (and if you ask me, they shouldn't be: public and Catholic schools are apples and oranges, and should be kept separate as they are here and downstate).

But not playing nonleague games? It's just ridiculous. The games, just like that St. Joe's-Sweet Home basketball thriller, will help teams get better. Fans, students and alumni? They'd come out in droves. And remember those people who this whole high school sports thing is supposed to be about? The student-athletes? Find one who wouldn't like to step on the field.

There are some elves working away at it even now, because January is the time the next season's football schedule is put together. I hear we football fans might not be able to open this gift until 2008. But that's OK. If that's what it takes, we'll wait.


Around the halls

*Jonathan Flynn's 33-point performance for Niagara Falls in Syracuse this weekend has Syracuse University fans buzzing even louder about him joining former Falls teammate Paul Harris with the Orange. But with Sports Illustrated saying Harris could go to the NBA, does Flynn think Harris will be there next year?

"I hope so," said Flynn. "But the NBA, that's hard to turn down. . . . But the funny thing is, he always says he's staying and waiting for me to come play. I say, 'What about the lottery? What if you were going to be No. 1? Paul, if there's millions in your face, you know you'd be a fool if you stay.' And he always says he'd stay."

Western New York statistician Paul Hutzler and his wife, Brenda, have attended the Western New York High School Football Awards Banquet nearly every year since it started 20 years ago. Both were wondering what a unique trophy on the main table was, since it was one they'd never seen before. Both were surprised when, at the end of the ceremony, Dick Gallagher made a special presentation of the trophy -- to Hutzler. "For the thousands and thousands of hours," Gallagher said, "he's put towards Western New York's student-athletes."


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