Football Takes Root in Center Moriches and Eastport

November 2, 2009

Two communities known for soccer can bask in the glow of the high school football playoffs—for one week at least. Center Moriches and Eastport-South Manor each qualified for the postseason, a first.

It’s a most remarkable feat for Center Moriches, which played its first varsity season in 2007 and went 5-3 this fall to earn the sixth seed in the Division IV playoffs. The Red Devils draw No. 3 Amityville in a quarterfinal game.

Eastport-South Manor was born in the last decade when two small school districts merged. A beautiful new high school was built. Now it can start stockpiling the tradition. Its 5-3 record and eighth seed in ultra-competitive Division III mark the next step for this growing community. ESM will face top seed Half Hollow Hills West in a quarterfinal.

For every teen who turned in his shoulder pads this week and kissed his battle-scarred helmet goodbye, there are plenty more still playing. The high school football playoff brackets are set in Nassau and Suffolk, and an unprecedented 32 schools in each county qualified. While Nassau has allowed eight teams in each conference to reach the postseason for a while now, this will mark Suffolk’s first expanded playoff.

There are no bigger beneficiaries than Center Moriches and Eastport-South Manor. Center Moriches has a long and proud sports history. But it’s mostly connected to soccer. People actually fought to keep football out of the school for fear it would take away from the town’s flagship sport.

Soccer will always be an important part of the Red Devils’ tradition. Indeed, the Center Moriches boys soccer team is the top seed in the Suffolk Class B playoffs, which begin on Wednesday. The girls will also play a semifinal game on Wednesday.

But November is all about playoff football. Center Moriches and Eastport-South Manor finally get to experience what all the excitement is about. Welcome to the show, boys and girls.

Blog originally posted at LI

Newsday: Center Moriches Football

September 16, 2007

Newsday logo
Title: INSIDE HIGH SCHOOLS / Finally, Moriches football
Publication: Newsday – Long Island, N.Y.
Date: Sep 16, 2007
Start Page: B.26
Section: SPORTS
Text Word Count: 709

The players took a knee and huddled in the East end zone yesterday, intently listening to what coach Steve Failla had to say. It caught the attention of everyone within earshot because Failla put the day into unique perspective.

Failla called the undersized and thoroughly humbled group before him immortal. That’s right, immortal, because championship teams and inaugural seasons are always remembered.

“I grew up in this community and I went to Mercy High School like a lot of people who wanted to play football,” Failla said. “I believe the playing field is an extension of the classroom. I’m for opportunities for all kids.”

Consider the playing field leveled. They played a football game at Center Moriches. Finally.

Two centuries have come and gone without football in this South Shore enclave bordering the Hamptons. Just five miles to the West, Floyd has grown into a gridiron power. Down the road a little further lies Bellport, a school synonymous with great football.

Center Moriches shied away from America’s fall pastime, glad to be known for superb soccer. No more.

They played football in Center Moriches. Say it a few more times and the concept might finally sink in. It would have been easy to miss.

A soccer match unfolded along an adjacent field. The crowd on hand to witness the first varsity football game wasn’t much bigger than the group watching soccer. And the outcome wasn’t anything to fire up the student body: Mercy 30, Center Moriches 0. But hard knocks are the norm for any budding program, especially so in the ultimate team sport.

“This is still a soccer school,” junior quarterback Joe Ratti said. “But we’re going to make it a football school.”

The Red Devils will be hard-pressed to win a game. They are the last seed of 14 teams in Suffolk Division IV. Mercy, who is No.13, showed just how wide the gap is – for now. Mercy and first-year coach Joe Read ran and passed at will. Center Moriches was held to 79 yards of total offense.

“We weren’t going to be their first victory,” Read said.

There will be more growing pains to be sure, yet there was nothing painful about the thumping. For several parents, boosters, players, administrators and coaches, the game marked the start of something special.

“I think you’ll see the next five or six years a strong football program here,” new Center Moriches athletic director Nick DeCillis said. “I think it’s very feasible.”

Generations of soccer players have cultivated Center Moriches’ reputation as a soccer school. The signs in front of the school attest to the boys and girls programs’ success in bold letters. In a district that appreciates history – the school was founded in 1813 – its soccer legacy is embraced.

Some of those soccer backers have made clear their opposition to football. But administrators ultimately embraced the sport as a way of reaching out to neighboring East Moriches, whose teenagers currently have the choice to attend either Westhampton, Eastport-South Manor or Center Moriches. Adding more options, such as football, makes Center Moriches more attractive and lures more local and state funds.

“Before we moved out here we checked out the school and looked at the community,” said Steve Ratti, whose son is the quarterback. “Then we asked about football. There was nothing.”

Ratti said he and a group of concerned parents made it a topic of every school board meeting until a junior high program was finally formed in 2005. The junior varsity debuted last fall. And despite objections from some that Center Moriches wasn’t ready, a varsity program is finally a reality.

“I challenge anyone to look into the eyes of the 90 kids in the football program and tell them they shouldn’t have the right to play football,” Failla said.

They finally played a football game at Center Moriches. The concept doesn’t sound as odd as it did a few minutes ago. Just give it time. It will grow on you, too.

This is Jason Molinet’s final column. He’s leaving Newsday after 11 years of covering high schools.