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Friday, November 28, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,

Adam Shinder/Recorder staff The concession stand and aging press box next to what is now the St. Mary's Institute soccer field is one of the only remnants of its days as the Bishop Scully High School football field.

Recorder file photo Bishop Scully head coach Jim Martuscello, center, gets a ride on his players' shoulders after the Mohawks defeated Fonda-Fultonville to win the 1982 Tri-Valley League championship.

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The enduring legacy of Bishop Scully football

Friday, August 29, 2014 - Updated: 9:08 PM

By ADAM SHINDER

@RecorderShinder

It's only a soccer field now.

Go to the original home of football under the Friday night lights in Amsterdam, and there's little evidence left of what once happened there.

The goalposts and gridiron are gone, long since swapped for soccer goals in what were the end zones. Even the lights themselves came down in their time.

The concrete concession stand topped with a wooden press box where the green paint's peeled away and some cracked, rusting bleachers lining the small hill next to the field are the only physical remnants of what was the field where Bishop Scully High School built its football legacy.

And, yet, for those who count themselves a part of that legacy, for those who were among the frenzy under those Friday night lights, that field conjures memories that can't be easily erased.

Just ask Jim Martuscello, who had a longer direct connection with Scully football then anyone -- as a player from 1965 to 1967, then as an assistant coach from 1969 to 1980 and the head coach from 1981 to 1987.

"Kids will go there and just look and remember," Martuscello said. "They stand on the hill and cherish their memories of the four years that they spent there and what Bishop Scully has done for them and where they are today."

'WE MADE THE MOST OF IT'

The Bishop Scully Mohawks burned bright and quick as a football program. In the grand scheme of things, 25 seasons -- the first as St. Mary's Institute in 1965 and the rest after the school was re-christened as Scully for the 1966-67 academic year -- are a drop in the bucket of football history.

But, in those 25 seasons before Bishop Scully ceased operation in 1990, the program forged a legacy in the Amsterdam community. The Mohawks won six outright league championships, shared two others and posted an overall record of 128-77-11.

Those who were there, however, said the sense of camaraderie of the Bishop Scully football program -- and the school at large -- is its lasting influence.

"The greatest memories were just the times we had together as teammates," record-setting running back Brian Niezgoda said earlier this month, on the eve of becoming the first Bishop Scully player to be enshrined in the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame. "Whether it was in school, whether it was during the games, we were a team on and off the field."

The program began in 1965 as the St. Mary's Institute Gaels. With the school set to be expanded for the next year as the parochial Bishop Scully High School, legendary basketball coach Francis "Dutch" Howlan undertook the job of kicking off the football program a year early.

"Dutch was basically not a football coach," said Tony Orapello, a football player in Scully's class of 1970 -- the first to spend four years at the school -- and the current boys basketball coach at Amsterdam High School. "He went to learn how to be a football coach. I know he was doing a lot of things to get himself ready, and being that he was a coach, he knew how to deal with the kids. He was a winner. He still ended up making everybody play hard and do what they were supposed to."

After a 2-5 inaugural season as SMI, the opening of Scully started the school's first golden era on the gridiron. The Mohawks went 4-4 in 1966, with their 3-1 Pioneer League record earning them a three-way tie for the league championship along with Broadalbin and Canajoharie.

That lone Pioneer League loss in 1966 was the only one Bishop Scully ever suffered in that conference. Over the next four years, the Mohawks won 25 consecutive league games, won the Pioneer title all four years and posted an overall record of 30-2 -- including perfect seasons in 1967 and 1970 -- before the breakup of the Pioneer and four years as an independent.

Bishop Scully joined the Tri-Valley League in 1975 and won league titles in 1981 and 1982, then shared the crown with Canajoharie and Fonda-Fultonville during the league's final season in 1986.

"We didn't have the facilities that some of the public schools had, like the weight rooms and the beautiful football field, but we took pride in what we had, we used it to the best of our ability and we made the most of it," said former Scully quarterback and 1986 graduate Mike Magliocca.

Growing up watching the Mohawks play, Tim Holloway -- a star at Scully in the 1980s who went on to earn Associated Press Little All-America honors at Siena College and is now the offensive coordinator at Amsterdam High School -- said that early foundation of success spawned even greater success down the road.

"Seeing them have success helped breed more success -- just like at Amsterdam," Holloway said. "You see kids now in the Little Giants program, they see the success Amsterdam's had and they want to be a part of that. One of the things we talk about as a coach at Amsterdam, we tell our kids not to take that for granted. You see a kid out in the community looking up to you with that jersey on, just like it was back in the Scully days, don't take that opportunity of your life for granted."

'A HUGE BAROMETER'

For any team success and individual glory, however, success on the gridiron at Scully almost always came down to one week of the year: The Fonda-Fultonville game.

In so many ways, it was the perfect rivalry. Separated by 10 minutes on Route 5, the two football programs were born at almost the same time -- Scully in 1965, Fonda-Fultonville in 1966.

"That was 10 miles apart, and they started the program when we did," Martuscello said. "If you pull out one of their programs, right from their inception to this day, it's got the Bishop Scully rivalry, the head-to-head competition."

And from the beginning to the bitter end, it was bitter.

"Beating Fonda was a huge barometer to how good your season was," Holloway said. "Beating Fonda, whether you were a football player or just a student, you felt a huge sense of pride -- and I think that was the same way for the Fonda kids as well."

"You could salvage a bad season based on that week," he added.

Nearly 30 years after his high school career ended, Holloway could still tick off Bishop Scully's year-by-year results against the Braves by memory. There was the game his junior year, when Martuscello switched an underachieving Scully team to an option-based veer option the week of the F-F game and the Mohawks pulled off an upset win.

There was also his sophomore season in 1983, when the Mohawks were clobbered by coach John West's Braves, 63-14. That game produced a moment Holloway said was almost too wild to believe -- a Scully player came off the bench mid-play late in the game to tackle a Fonda-Fultonville runner who had broken free yet again.

"If you weren't there to witness, you may not believe it," he said.

Matt Beck was a member of Bishop Scully's final graduating class in 1990, and was the Mohawks' final starting quarterback in their 1989 swan song. In his senior year, the Mohawks faced an undefeated F-F team -- and came within seconds of pulling off the upset before a late touchdown pass gave the Braves the win.

That was the final chapter of Route 5's fierce rivalry.

"I can just remember that all-time high, thinking you're gonna knock off Fonda, our big rival, and with 13 seconds left they score," Beck said.

"It would've been a great way to close our school for football," he continued. "It just didn't happen."

'TELEPHONE POLES WITH LIGHTS'

When it started, the Bishop Scully Mohawks football team played in what is currently the home of the Amsterdam Mohawks baseball team -- Shuttleworth Park, or, as it was called back then, Mohawk Mills Park.

"We played right in the outfield where the (Amsterdam) Mohawks play right now," Orapello said.

When Scully started to play on its own field, just down a tiny hill off the left side of the main building, a decision was made to try and maximize the number of fans at the games. Howlan and the school administration knew there was no way they could compete with the crowds at Amsterdam High School games on Saturday afternoon.

The solution? Let there be light.

"We were the first. Before Amsterdam got lights, before anybody got lights," Martuscello said. "The reason being, we couldn't compete with anybody on a Saturday afternoon. When Amsterdam High School played, everyone went to the Amsterdam game. Friday night, (Scully) was the place to be in Amsterdam. It was a gathering."

Bringing in the lights, Orapello said, was down to Howlan's sheer force of will as a motivator in the community.

Not that the lighting was any particular technological marvel.

"They were telephone poles with lights on top of them," he said, chuckling.

But, turn those lights on, and there was magic.

"We were the original 'Friday Night Lights,'" Holloway said. "Before 'Friday Night Lights' even existed, Bishop Scully was the first to kind of be the place to be on a Friday night. When we played on Friday night, everybody in the area came. Other teams, other parents, every football fan was there on a Friday night. It was the place to be."

"It was the only game in town," said Lou Magliocca, who played four years for Bishop Scully before graduating in 1982, and eventually returned to succeed Martuscello as the Mohawks' final head coach.

Being a part of that made the players who came through Scully during that quarter-century never want the ride to end.

"We were drawing anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 on a Friday night," Mike Magliocca said. "As a kid, you're excited to play in front of that many people under the lights. That was really something special."

'GONE EXTINCT'

Eventually, the story ended. As the years rolled on, Scully's enrollment dwindled, and in 1990 the Diocese of Albany made the decision to close the only parochial secondary school in Montgomery and Fulton counties.

"It was the mixture of declining enrollment and just a changing environment," Holloway said. "They just couldn't keep it going."

"But," he added, "the sense of pride and the environment of Bishop Scully never changed, all the way to the end."

The final academic year at Bishop Scully started 25 years ago this September. Looking back now, those who were an integral part of what the school was lament the fact that, even though the building is still there -- now as St. Mary's Institute for elementary and middle schoolers -- a private high school option close to home doesn't exist for area families.

"There'd still be kids going to Bishop Scully if it was still around," Martuscello said. "A lot of people would like a little, private school with close-knit families."

But, for nearly 25 years now, Bishop Scully and it's little football program that could are gone, leaving just a legacy and a legion of proud, tightly-knit alumni.

"We call ourselves 'extinct,'" Orapello said. "We've gone extinct."

"You come here, and it brings back everything," Beck said while standing in the school's parking lot Tuesday evening. "It's funny to think it's 25 years since that last season."

But, "extinct" as they might be, the products of Bishop Scully High School and Mohawks football have no problem letting the memories of those special days -- and those frenzied Friday nights -- endure.

"For the time that the school was there, it was an important part of the community," Orapello said. "It was a different kind of philosophy. It was awesome. I loved every moment there. It made me what I am. I'll never forget the place."

     

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