Graduates of North Rockland High School, and Haverstraw High before that, have long declared their “Raider Pride.” Like at many schools in the Lower Hudson Valley, football, basketball and other sports draw big crowds and elicit school and community allegiance.
Over the weekend, North Rockland lost a key figure in its long-outstanding sports legacy: Ralph Cordisco, a legend in North Rockland football, died on Sunday at 97. His support for the school, his teaching of not only athletic skills but self-respect and community responsibility, will be sorely missed.
Red Raiders play their football games at Cordisco Stadium, named for the school’s former head football coach and athletic director in 1983, a year before he retired. The dedication ceremony, during a halftime, was replete with antique fire engine, a band and honors by then-Congressman Ben Gilman.
Cordisco’s roots in the northern Rockland community run deep: he was a Haverstraw native; played football with on the Haverstraw High’s 1933 inaugural team, was part of the 1936 Haverstraw High football championship team and was an All-County athlete in football and basketball.
Cordisco held the Rockland County record for football career wins from 1956 through 1979. He was a graduate of Syracuse University; he’s in both the Rockland County and North Rockland Sports Halls of Fame.
For decades after Joe Casarella, a North Rockland legend in his own right, took over the football program, Cordisco kept going to games, but sat in the press box, even though Casarella welcomed him to the sidelines. “ I’ve had my days on the field, ” Cordisco said in a 1996 interview. “… There’s nothing that can top the great honor given to me by my school and my community, nothing. ”
In November, North Rockland AD Casarella reflected on the lessons learned all those years as Cordisco’s assistant coach; he said Cordisco taught him “that every kid should be treated the same, star or last man on the team.”
That is what high school sports should always be about. And that is what Cordisco gave generations of North Rocklanders.