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West Seneca West state championship unites town in victory celebration

Except for one matter, the most recent West Seneca Town Board meeting earlier this month proved to be a contentious affair as residents and officials argued bitterly over the town budget and taxes.

The one unifying topic?

The packed room applauded when Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan dedicated the meeting to the West Seneca West High School football team.

At that time, the Indians were in the playoffs and a potent rallying point for the town of about 45,000. Each game this year built interest and hope for a perfect season.

That happened Friday in Syracuse, with a 14-6 win against the Yorktown Huskers for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class A championship.

West Seneca West is the best, captures state Class A football title

The day after, people of West Seneca continued to savor the state championship and think about its larger meaning.

"It's surreal. It's fun to see the community come out, to see the pride," said Vincent Dell'Oso, athletic director at the West Seneca Central School District and a fourth generation resident. "Hopefully, the flavor will last."

The team returned to the town Friday night as heroes. The West Seneca Police Department escorted the players' bus from Route 400 to the school, where town fire trucks, their lights flashing, shot out arcs of water.

"There were people in the parking lot with tears in their eyes, people who went to school here who pulled out their old varsity jackets," said Joseph Cantafio, the team's former football coach who assists the current staff, and the president of the West Seneca Teachers Association.

For Cantafio and many others, the accomplishment of the players and coaches brought out a flood of emotions. Cantafio is a lifelong resident of the town and graduate of the high school. He coached many of the people now coaching in the school district. His triplet boys are juniors at the school he attended, two of them Indians players.

To him, the team represents the good to be found in West Seneca.

"This is a team of all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds. They showed that, when you come together, anything is possible," he said.

In a tight-knit town like West Seneca, with a hunger for a competitive football team, it didn't take much for residents to coalesce around the Indians' fortunes, said Matthew Bystrak, the interim school superintendent. He recalled stopping at a Thruway service area on the way to the game and finding so many enthusiastic fans gathered there that it felt like a pep rally.

"People are thrilled," he said.

A season like this one can have long-term impact.

"There is an energy from something like this," Bystrak said. "It builds credibility, like investments in a bank, that can pull you through the tougher times."

Dell'Oso said success breeds success.

"It takes good players to win, and it takes winning to attract good players," he said.

Cantafio offered a similar perspective. Looked at the other way, he said, when a key athletic program does not do well, fewer students try out for the team, and that can carry over to other sports.

There is also a nuanced ripple effect, according to Cantafio. If you believe sports can build character and teach young people to overcome adversity, as he does, then successful athletic programs are more likely to attract more students, he said.

One other important point of agreement in West Seneca is this: The Indians will be celebrated, big time, likely in multiple ways.

Supervisor Meegan and others said a number of plans are in the works. These range from championship rings to participation in the annual town parade.

"The players worked so well together. We're sharing in the victory. We're very proud," she said.

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