LONG BRANCH – Long Branch football coach Dan George carefully slid the enlarged team photo of the school’s 1932 team out of its plastic sheath and gazed at rows of young men not unlike the team he currently oversees 83 years later.
Except that his grandfather, William George, is in the grainy black-and-white image, while other photos show his great-uncle Walter, who played on the 1937 sectional state championship team and at Wake Forest.
Wesley Mayo inspected a photo from the late 1950s, when he played alongside George’s father, William Jr. They were sophomores in 1956 when Bo Bo Reeves starred on the Green Wave’s state championship team, leading the Shore in scoring.
Mayo’s son, Wesley Jr., connected the dots to the teams of the late 1970s, playing alongside Sam Mills, while George and his brothers, Billy (William III), Alex and Tommy, all took the field in the 1980s. Dan George played alongside Mayo Jr.’s brother, Chris, eventually coaching Chris’ sons, Chris Jr. and Julian, as well as his own son, Nick, and his nephew, Bill.
And so it all unfolded on a recent evening in George’s office adjacent to Bresett Stadium.
The scrapbooks and memories were part of an intricate tapestry in which family, tradition and football all helped weave the fabric of a community.
The stories they recounted were part of the rich football history at the Jersey Shore.
And each generation played against Red Bank on Thanksgiving Day, with the two schools meeting for the 93rd time this year.
“It’s a day you’ll never forget, win or lose,” George said. “It’s a pretty long walk to the field at Red Bank, and we’re going to walk through a lot of people. Our guys are going to go lay it on the line and know their aunts or their uncles are all going to be there. There have been to a lot of games where kids haven’t had a mom or dad at game. But this one, everyone is coming.”
“That was part of my speech my senior year as a captain in 1978,” Wesley Mayo Jr. said. “ ‘You will never forget this game, no matter what you’re doing in your life.’ I remember it just like it did yesterday.”
In Mayo Jr.’s case, the memories include being unable to stop Red Bank running back Terry Neely that year.
George recalls their win over Red Bank as a senior in 1982, but it was his junior year that stands out in his mind.
“Danny Clapp was the Red Bank quarterback, and they were 8-1 or 7-2 and were supposed to set all kinds of records,” George said. “We beat them 16-0, and I threw two touchdown passes. And that was not common, me throwing two touchdown passes.”
And later that day the George family paid a visit to the Clapps, just like they did every Thanksgiving.
“My dad and Mr. Clapp were best friends. They ice-boated together for years,” George said.
It turns out all this is about so much more than football.
Sure, there are the reminders of the great victories scattered about. Like the framed article from 1999, when the Green Wave ended Neptune’s 33-game winning streak in the Central Group III final.
But as a result of those moments, unbreakable bonds were formed, and lessons that simply could not be taught anywhere else were learned.
“Coach (Amedeo “Army”) Ippolito was very matter-of-fact,” said Wesley Mayo of Long Branch’s legendary coach, whose teams were named state sectional champions five times during his 20 seasons (1944-63). “He would just say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do.’ And that’s what I did.
“I think that football for me, and then passing down to my kids and all, was the starting point of for me to move onto other things. I went into the Army, not to college, but the regimen I had in football helped me immensely when I went to boot camp and my career from the military to the police. It was a good foundation for me and set the stage for me to move on to other things.”
In 25 years as a Long Branch cop, Mayo was always at his sons’ games, as part of the security detail. And he was far from the only alumnus at the games, with former players lining the walk from the old high school, where the current players would emerge after walking upstairs from the cafeteria to make their way to the field.
“I remember when Sam Mills was a senior (during the 1976 season),” said Mayo Jr., a lieutenant in his 30th year with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. “We had a good team, and when Sam spoke down in that cafeteria, it was silent. You didn’t move. His speech made you want to run through walls. He was an amazing man. He led you by example.”
Mills, an undersized linebacker who went on to a Pro Bowl career in the NFL, is one of the most inspiring figures to emerge from the rivalry with Red Bank. He went on to become a coach with the Carolina Panthers, courageously battling cancer until his death in 2005.
Character building is what games like this are all about. And the fact that they play for the Ty Lewis Memorial Trophy provides an incredible teaching moment.
Lewis, an All-Shore football and baseball player at Red Bank in the 1960s, was the first black head football coach in Monmouth County and was the head coach at Red Bank when he died in 1990.
“He was the definition of a teacher, from the second he got to school in the morning until practice after school,” said Dan George, who was a young assistant coach under Lewis at Red Bank in 1990. “He was at the forefront of getting kids in the mindset of, ‘We’re going to play high school ball, we’re going to do well, and I’m going to get you into college, and you’re going to play ball in college.’ Wherever it was, he was going to get you into the right place.
“Part of Ty’s legacy is getting to talk about him with your kids each year. I think sometimes we get caught up in the X’s and O’s and what’s going on to beat this team, but it’s important to have these conversations about what this means.”
Football was a unifying structure over the years in these towns, because it didn’t matter what race you where or what side of the tracks you lived on.
“Race didn’t matter,” said Mayo Jr., who is black. “I’d have dinner over the Dunns’ house in the North End. I would be at the Hayeses’ house, all over. We were all together.”
“We did the same thing. We would go over to Jimmy Quirk’s house; his mother would cook dinner for us the night before the game,” said Mayo Sr. Quirk later served as a longtime on-field official in the NFL. “Everyone made sure everybody was off the street and got a good meal and got home and get ready for the game.”
The memories flowed as the dialogue continued. There was the day Red Bank’s Eric McCoo and Long Branch’s Tidy Corbett combined for 588 yards in 1997, and the day Long Branch came up short against an unbeaten Red Bank team in 1975.
And when it was over, you couldn’t help but have a better sense of just how important these rivalry games were. Because while so many of them have been eliminated over the years, the lessons learned on Thanksgiving Day last a lifetime.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org
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