Jaywalking: Back to the future
The year 2009 seems distant to the Frontier Regional School football team.
That fall, the Red Hawks went 9-1 in the regular season and advanced to the WMass Division III Super Bowl, where they put up a valiant effort against what had looked to be an unstoppable force in Mahar Regional School. While the Hawks fell to the Senators, 34-19, it was, at the time, the latest example of what had been one of the most consistent and successful football programs in the 2000s.
That has all changed in recent years, as the Hawks have won more than three games just once in the past four campaigns, and it culminated this past spring when meetings were held at the South Deerfield school about the future of the once-proud program. Four years ago words like “cooperative” and “viability” would never have been thrown around the program. But with no seniors signed up to play, there was a discussion about keeping players safe and how to sustain it.
“We thought this year was certainly going to be a struggle, numbers-wise and age-wise,” Frontier athletic director Marty Sanderson said. “We knew we were going to be young and we knew we were not going to have big numbers. But I was very happy with the competitiveness that we’ve shown this season. I thought we fared very well.”
Oddly enough, four years ago when Frontier was playing in the Super Bowl, there was another local team in a very similar situation. Turners Falls High School finished the 2009 season with just one win and nine losses. It was another losing campaign in what was becoming commonplace in the Powertown over a 10-year stretch beginning around the turn of the millennium. The two teams have since gone in very different directions, with Turners Falls making its third straight playoff appearance and having just won the WMass Division VI championship one year after falling in the WMass Division IV Super Bowl. The Turners Falls resurgence has been a culmination of many things, including hard work by the coaching staff and players, but one thing the town has never lacked is support of its team. Frontier Regional School is hoping it can become the next Turners Falls in a sense, and the rebuilding project began this season and will continue on Nov. 26 at the Polish American Citizens Club.
That night, from 6:30 to 8, Frontier will show film of the legendary 1963 football game between Arms Academy and Frontier Regional School as part of the rebuilding initiative called, “Back to Bricks and Mortar: Rebuilding Frontier Football.” There will be members of the ’63 team as well as players from the current team on hand. Cost is $7 and there will be snacks and refreshments on hand.
I got a sneak peek of the game film last week, meeting with Frontier assistant coach Brian Delaney (who has spearheaded this initiative) as well as former Frontier head coach Scott Dredge, and Bernie Sadoski, who played in the 1963 game as a junior. The film was discovered over the past year after the hiring of Don Gordon to replace Dredge, who had to step down to become the assistant principal at Frontier. Gordon brought Delaney onto his staff, and shortly after the hiring, Gordon enlisted Delaney to take inventory of the supply closet so they knew what they had and what they needed. Delaney said he remembered stumbling onto a dusty cardboard box that was sitting next to an old first-aid kit. When he opened the box, he was greeted to a whole lot of dust, but when he brushed that away, he found buried under it was old 16-millimeter game reels. When he rubbed the dust off the top canister, it read “Frontier vs. Arms Academy, November 1963.” The box was filled with old footage, including games against Amherst, Turners Falls and Ware.
“It was like finding an old box of family treasures in the corner of the dusty attic,” Delaney said. “I immediately knew this was left by someone for a reason.”
Delaney went to the Frontier Video/Tech Department and was told that he had two options for viewing the film. He could try and find an old 16-millimeter projector, or he could send away the reels to professionals who could digitalize the video. If he went the projector route, it would be possible that the film could get ruined when playing. It was determined to send away the film for digitalization, but that was not going to come cheap. It cost about $1,000 to restore five of the 10 films found. The Polish American Citizens Club and Goulet Trucking Inc. helped foot the bill for the restoration, and the five films were sent to a museum in Chicago for the process. They arrived back in early September and now you can view the results and help the Frontier football program in the process.
The black-and-white film offers an appropriate view of hard-nosed, old-time football. Sadoski sat and talked about the players from that team, not only giving analysis of the players and that game, but also updating what the players are doing today. Take for example starting quarterback Jim Duda, who threw a 5-yard touchdown pass, rushed for a 5-yard touchdown, and also kicked an extra point and threw a two-point conversion pass. After high school, according to Sadoski, Duda was one of many players from that game who would serve in Vietnam.
“A couple of the guys went off to Vietnam, when they got home, you could tell that the war changed them,” he said. “Jim came home and died twenty years later or so of cancer. One of those Agent Orange things.”
There were also players like Jim Turati, who caught a touchdown pass in the win, and running back Dick Swiatek, who rushed in a 52-yard touchdown on the day. Gerry Bell caught a two-point conversion pass, while linemen like Don Sadowski, Dick Winskye, Barry Tozloski, Skip Mastaliz and Fred LaBroad helped Frontier rush for 224 yards on the day.
So who won? Frontier wound up earning a 21-8 victory in the game. It’s a game that will live on forever now in South Deerfield, and it’s something you can see for yourself and help out the Frontier team in the process. Members from both teams will also be recognized in a pre-game ceremony prior to the Nov. 27 Thanksgiving eve game between Frontier and Mohawk in South Deerfield to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the game.
For more information contact Delaney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 665-2118 ext. 234. Any players from either the 1963 Arms or Frontier teams should also contact Delaney about taking part in the pre-game ceremony.
Friday was a pretty awful day for me after screwing up Turners Falls line coach Jay Wonsey’s name in print and also having a misidentified caption under a photo of Wonsey that referred to him as head coach Chris Lapointe.
The mistake was in reference to me writing Tony Wonzy, which is very close to a Frontier Suburban League football player, and for some reason, that name was in my head when I referred to Jay Wonsey in my story that day. We spoke following the Indians’ WMass Division VI championship victory and he laughed it off. Although as we spoke I believe I heard at least one person holler “Nice job, Tony.” I guess Wonsey can add “new nickname” to the list of things he earned that day, the other major thing being the title of WMass champion.
I again spoke to Wonsey on Monday afternoon as the team watched game film before practice. The former lineman said he was not surprised that a his name was part of a mistake in the newspaper.
“It’s a typical lineman thing,” he joked. “No one knows who you are until there’s a mistake.”
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.