Section II football experienced lots of divisional shuffling

Coaching changes, new fields also big part of 2009 season.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The winds of change have swept through Section II football like never before, leaving nine teams in new locations, and 11 teams with different coaches than those who roamed their sidelines in 2008.

There’s a new varsity team, too, in Ichabod Crane, three new TurfField surfaces to compete on, and a new all-star football game for the area’s finest players on the horizon.

Ichabod Crane’s jump to the varsity level gives Section II 62 teams, and four more than it had in 2005, with Hoosic Valley (2006), Cairo-Durham (2007) and Saratoga Catholic (2008) joining the fold in recent years. Ichabod Crane is a member of the Class B Reinfurt Division but has opted to play a non-league schedule against Class C South Division opponents, starting Friday at home against Cairo-Durham.

“It’s great any time you can add programs,” said Gary VanDerzee, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk’s head coach and the Section II football chairman. “When you have more kids participating in the sport, it’s a good thing.”

Coach Tim Stewart’s Ichabod Crane team will be ineligible for sectional play, as was Lake George last year when, as a Class C team, it opted to play a Class D schedule and posted a 9-0 record. Lake George this year is part of the nine-team Class D league, which has altered its look and playoff format.

The Class D league will no longer be divided into two divisions. It has also scrapped its four-team, two-round playoff for a three-round, six-team playoff. The top two teams will receive a bye into the semifinals, while the next four will square off in quarterfinals in Week 8.

Lake George is one of five teams moving down in class based on school enrollment, with Niskayuna going from Class AA to Class A, Lansingburgh shifting from Class A to Class B, and Cairo-Durham and Taconic Hills dropping from Class B to Class C. Canajoharie has moved up in class, from Class D to Class C.

“Team movement isn’t a new thing since we went to class play [in 2004],” said VanDerzee. “Enrollments change.”

“It’s kind of fun stepping into something new,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey. “We’ve been going over films and checking things out. We’ve been preparing for what’s ahead.”

Bethlehem, Hoosic Valley and Tamarac have moved to different divisions, with Bethlehem (Class AA) going from the Empire to the Liberty, and Hoosic Valley and Tamarac (Class C) both going from the South to the North.

With the changes, Class AA and Class A each have 12 teams and two divisions of six teams each. Class B remains with 11 teams and two divisions, with six in one and five in the other. Class C now features two nine-team divisions.

The Class AA Liberty Division has first-time head coaches Jim Kramer at Schenectady, Rick Leach at Bethlehem and Drew Romanowski at Columbia, while Mike Ambrosio returns to direct Colonie after a one-year hiatus. John Millett has also returned to Whitehall after a 10-year absence. The 75-year-old Millett is No. 4 on Section II’s all-time win list with 189 victories, those forged in a near 40-year run with both Whitehall and Granville.

Other first-time head coaches are Tom Pallas at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, Zach Gobel at Averill Park and Al McNall at Lansingburgh.

Pete Porcelli left Lansingburgh for Albany after leading the Knights to 67 wins and four Section II championships in eight seasons, former Bishop Gibbons coach Carm Audino has taken the helm at Catholic Central, and Joe Whipple has moved from Bishop Gibbons to Schalmont.

Whipple guided Bishop Gibbons to six wins last year, the program’s most since 1972, and takes over a Schalmont team that tied a school record with seven wins in 2008.

Porcelli inherits an Albany team that was winless in two of the last three years, and has been over .500 just twice since taking the Class AA banner in 1996. Its theme for the new season is “Time to Shine.”

“Pete is going to have his team ready to play,” said Saratoga Springs coach Terry Jones, whose Blue Streaks open Empire Division play at Albany in Week 3. “He’s proved he can turn programs around.”

Section II’s all-time winningest coach, Brent Steuerwald of Shenendehowa, is five victories shy of 300.

“If that occurs, I would be very proud. It would be something to relish, but I would be arrogant to think it’s all about me,” said Steuerwald, who began his run of success at Shenendehowa in 1968 and is No. 3 all-time among New York coaches. “It’s because of a whole lot of kids and a whole lot of coaches that we’ve come this far.”

Shenendehowa has a new turf field to compete on, as do Schenectady and Stillwater. The football facility at Shenendehowa also includes a new scoreboard, bleachers, track, concession stand and sound system.

“It’s magnificent,” Steuerwald said. “I don’t think there’s anything in upstate New York that’s better. I’m totally thrilled with it, and somewhat in awe of it.”

Two sites out of the area, Cicero-North Syracuse and the Carrier Dome, are being considered to host a new all-star football game in June for the state’s leading players that’s being put together by the New York State High School Football Coaches Association. Some of the state’s best seniors competed against those from New Jersey in past years at the Governor’s Bowl, but that contest ended this summer because of New Jersey’s unwillingness to play any games outside of the Garden State.

2009 SECTION II FOOTBALL

Class AA

Empire Division: Albany, Ballston Spa, Christian Brothers Academy, Guilderland, Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa. Liberty Division: Bethlehem, Colonie, Columbia, LaSalle, Schenectady, Shaker.

Class A

Southeast Division: Averill Park, Bishop Maginn, Mohonasen, Niskayuna, Scotia-Glenville, Troy. Northwest Division: Amsterdam, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Glens Falls, Gloversville, Queensbury, South Glens Falls.

Class B

Reinfurt Division: Albany Academy, Cohoes, Hudson, Ichabod Crane (new program), Lansingburgh, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk. West Division: Broadalbin-Perth, Cobleskill-Richmondville, Hudson Falls, Johnstown, Schalmont.

Class C

North Division: Cambridge, Corinth, Granville, Hoosic Valley, Hoosick Falls, Mechanicville, Schuylerville, Stillwater, Tamarac. South Division: Cairo-Durham, Canajoharie, Catholic Central, Chatham, Coxsackie-Athens, Fonda-Fultonville, Taconic Hills, Voorheesville, Watervliet.

Class D

Fort Edward, Greenwich, Lake George, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, Rensselaer, Salem, Saratoga Catholic, Warrensburg, Whitehall.

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