Riverside High School Closes Down Football Program
By Al Bruno,
Teacher and Writer
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 the city of Buffalo. This 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 HS has had to close down 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 program’s closure was especially a heartfelt and sinking experience for me, knowing full well that the Riverside HS football team was once a prosperous, football program that dominated the gridiron battles and exuded pride and swagger in the community.
In the 1960s, their first golden age, Coach Charlie Dingboom led the Riverside HS Frontiersmen to the Harvard Cup Championship game every year in that memorable decade, winning a record, five straight championships. Coach Dingboom was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, coaching Riverside HS from 1959 to 1989.
Coach Dingboom coached many great athletes, but none that is more memorable than Joe Ehrmann, a 6’4″, 240-pound thumper and former collegiate All-American and All-Pro defensive tackle, playing nine seasons with the Baltimore Colts. “Coach Dingboom created a civic pride in Riverside that lingers to this day,” Ehrmann would say in 2010.
The Riverside Frontiersmen were coached by veteran coach Steve Toth in the 1990s, winning and sharing the Harvard Cup Championship in 1995, tying McKinley, 6 – 6. Then, from 2000 to 2011, Coach Tony Truilizio led them to the “promised land” again to a second golden age for the Frontiersmen, winning a total of four Harvard Cup Championships. The last one was garnered in 2009, the final year of the Harvard Cup Championship in Buffalo.
Coach Truilizio coached many great athletes but none with the receiving and touchdown-making prowess of Mike Williams, the high-flying, wide receiver and 10-year veteran of
the NFL, playing mostly for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a short stint for the Buffalo Bills. About the closing down of the Riverside football program, Truilizio said, “I am heartbroken that the program has dissolved.”
Of the Harvard Cup winning experiences, Truilizio proudly stated, “I told my players that a Harvard Cup Championship will place you with an elite group of guys and no matter what, you will always be bonded together like brothers. They are my extended family that I will love forever.”
What was originally a city league of 14 high schools has dwindled down to five city football programs now 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.
South Park Head Coach Tim Delaney, a 9-year city football coach, voiced his disappointing thoughts on the closing of Riverside football program. Coach Delaney participated in the Harvard Cup game four times (twice as a player and twice as an assistant coach): winning one as a South Park player in 1996 and winning one as a Hutch Tech assistant coach in 2002.
“I will never forget playing in the Harvard Cup in 1996 and 1997. I always felt that the Harvard Cup game carried so much tradition and the crowd was always very much into what was happening in city football,” vividly recalled Coach Delaney.
The shutdown of the Riverside HS football program has certainly 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 here for those of you that can remember and those of you that can imagine what once was and is no longer:
The much-anticipated, Harvard Cup Championship game was kicked off by 10 am at All-High Stadium, located behind Bennett High School on Main Street, and it was televised and aired on-the-radio, locally, for Buffalo and Western New York residents.
By 1 pm, the Harvard Cup Champion would be officially crowned, while the mouth-watering aroma of a baked turkey, stuffing and fixings, and apple and pumpkin pies pleasantly permeated our homes that Thanksgiving Day. We would celebrate both Thanksgiving and the new Harvard Cup Champions. Then we would eat turkey and discuss city football and icon coaches like Coach Dingboom and Grover Cleveland HS Coach Art Serotte, the winningest coach in Harvard Cup history.
The shutdown of Riverside High School Football program is a sad reality and a vivid reminder of what once was great and still is about those hordes of gridiron gladiators that valiantly competed on Thanksgiving Day for football supremacy in the city of Buffalo.