Prior to Friday night’s 18-mile ride across the Tappan Zee Bridge to West Nyack, the Scarsdale football team will have hardly stepped foot on a bus. The only two times it did so far, the rides lasted no longer than a normal halftime.
“Last year when we were going against Arlington or someone like that, it’d be so hard for kids in the school to come watch us play,” Scarsdale junior Nick Leone said. “This year when we played at Mamaroneck it was almost like a home game because we had so many fans there.”
Players and coaches alike have noticed the difference. Playing more games closer to home is one of the adjustments made this season by Section 1 football at the advice of coaches, who had greater input last offseason than in the previous years. The result for many schools has been better crowds and greater excitement.
Previous columns by Josh Thomson:
The coaches’ touch might not be magic, but it clearly moved the needle in the right direction.
“I think we’re making progress,” said Yorktown coach Mike Rescigno, the president of the coaches association. “It’s to everyone’s credit because I think it’s what’s in the best interest of the kids.”
Rescigno was one of several coaches who lobbed sharp criticisms at Section 1 administrators in recent years about the structure of football. They had enacted a five-year plan beginning in 2011 that tried to answer competitive-balance concerns that threatened to split the section at its seams. Schools that wanted to keep their programs afloat no longer wanted their fortunes determined by a season geared toward the programs hungry to pursue state-playoff berths.
The result was power-based scheduling and convoluted formulas for playoff qualification. Too often they left deserving teams fuming.
“There were always a few teams who weren’t happy,” Clarkstown North coach Joe Trongone said.
Although the system clearly improved as the five-year window closed, Section 1 coaches often felt like their expertise went untapped. They formed a committee this offseason led by Rescigno that was created so coaches could brainstorm ideas and communicate them up the chain of command.
Rather than fill out questionnaires like in the past, coaches from each classification met to hash out rankings, leaning on variables such as past success, enrollment numbers and their opinions on their teams.
The coaches credited Section 1 executive director Jennifer Simmons and the football committee for being receptive to their ideas.
“One of the things we did early on was put our heads together to rank ourselves as coaches,” Rescigno said. “It was a lot of time and effort to develop rankings. Are they perfect? No, but I feel like we’re coming closer.”
Each classification also addressed the issues unique to its member schools. Trongone and Clarkstown South coach Mike Scarpelli were among those who pitched geographic-based leagues for Class AA. East Ramapo athletic director Bill Pilla created a formula for playoff qualification based on one used in Bergen County. It rewards teams with points for winning and residual points for playing tougher opponents.
Pilla’s plan started with a conversation last Thanksgiving with Jim Grasso, the athletic director at Ramsey High School.
“Right now, I don’t think anybody’s looking at this and thinking, ‘Wow, we blew it. This is terrible,’ ” Pilla said. “A few years ago, the section was getting made fun of.”
Now, teams simply appear to be having fun.
“It’s like when I first started getting into coaching,” Trongone said. “It’s a lot more exciting knowing that you’re going across town and you’re playing a lot more games in-county. There are a lot of fans. There’s a lot more focus from the kids. They grew up with each other. They know each other. It’s not just Clarkstown North vs. South. We have a lot of other great rivalries with teams in our county and we’re getting to play those, too.”