By Al Bruno
The recent shutdown of the Riverside High School football program, the Frontiersmen, has sent me personally reeling, reflecting and yearning for those precious memories of Harvard Cup championships in Buffalo. It is a football tradition dating back to 1903, when 14 city teams competed for the honor of playing for the coveted championship on Thanksgiving Day.
Unfortunately, Riverside High School has had to end its football program due to decreasing enrollments over the past five years. As a result, unavoidably, persistent losing ensued and difficulty in fielding a junior varsity football team eventually manifested into derailing issues to cope with in each of those years.
As the outgoing varsity head coach, the skipper, the program’s closure was especially a heartfelt and sinking experience for me, knowing full well that Riverside football was once a prosperous program that dominated the gridiron battles and exuded civic pride, a swagger, in the community.
In the 1960s, the team’s first golden age, coach Charlie Dingboom led the Riverside Frontiersmen to the Harvard Cup championship game every year in that memorable decade, winning a record five straight championships. Dingboom, who coached from 1959 to 1989, was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
In the 1990s, the Frontiersmen were led by longtime coach Steve Toth. The team won and shared the Harvard Cup championship in 1995, tying McKinley, 6-6.
From 2000 to 2011, coach Tony Truilizio led the team to the promised land again to a second golden age for the Frontiersmen, appearing in four Harvard Cup championships, and winning three of them. The last one was garnered in 2009, the final year of the Harvard Cup championship in Buffalo.
What was originally a city league of 14 high schools has now dwindled to five city football programs at Bennett, Burgard, Hutch-Tech, McKinley and South Park high schools. In 15 years, the district has had to shut down football programs at Kensington, Seneca, Lafayette, Grover Cleveland and now Riverside.
The shutdown of the Riverside program has created a mood of somberness among most city football enthusiasts. The past has come and gone, and now, the past can only be yearned for by retelling the Harvard Cup epic when city football was at its zenith, beaming with pride.
Let’s go down memory lane for those of you who can remember and those of you who can imagine what once was and is no longer.
The much-anticipated Harvard Cup championship game was kicked off by 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day at All-High Stadium, located behind Bennett High School on Main Street, and it was televised and aired on local radio for Buffalo and Western New York residents.
By 1 p.m., the Harvard Cup champion would be officially crowned, while the mouth-watering aroma of a baking turkey, stuffing and fixings, and apple and pumpkin pies pleasantly permeated our homes. We would celebrate both Thanksgiving and the new Harvard Cup champions. We would eat turkey and discuss city football and iconic coaches like Dingboom and Grover Cleveland coach Art Serotte, the winningest coach in Harvard Cup history.
The shutdown of Riverside football is a sad reality and a vivid reminder of what once was great and still is about those hordes of gridiron gladiators who valiantly competed for the Harvard Cup and football supremacy in the City of Buffalo.