By Matthew Saari
In its heyday, the annual Granville-Whitehall football game was one of the most notable in the entire region.
But in recent years the teams have played infrequently and the fabled rivalry has faded to the point of becoming simply a footnote in the pages of local history.
Now that Granville has dropped from Class C to Class D in Section II football competition, because of a slight dip in school enrollment, it will play at Whitehall’s class level this fall.
Will that revive the rivalry? Many in both communities hope so.
“I think this is great because it will allow Granville and Whitehall the opportunity to renew the rivalry…It never should have stopped,” said Phil Berke, who played for Granville in the rivalry days.
“I don’t know if it would take much; it meant a lot to everyone growing up,” said Whitehall football coach Rich Gould.
Last year the schools were able to schedule a game but it just wasn’t the same.
“I think restoring it last year didn’t have the same atmosphere of the ‘80’s,” said Keith Redmond, athletic director of Whitehall school. “But I think we should bring it back.”
Former Whitehall coach John Millett, who also once coached Granville, said:
“(The players) had no concept of what it was before…it’s something that may have to be built back up again.”
In an effort to rekindle the old passion, Gould had players from the 1980’s come to the game last fall and speak to his players about what it means to be a Railroader and about the age-old rivalry.
Despite the effort, the atmosphere couldn’t be replicated.
“It probably means more to parents and the older generation than the kids because they haven’t experienced it,” Gould said.
As is sometimes the case with history, the fog of time blurs facts with legend to the point where no one is really sure when, where or why this rivalry started and how it became so poignant.
“I’m not sure when the big rivalry between Granville and Whitehall began but it had to be around 1926…and continued until close to the end of the 1980’s,” Millett said.
“I’m not sure but I assume it stems from the approximate closeness,” Redmond said.
“It went back to the late 1920’s if I recall. That was before my time…I assume it’s because we’re neighbors; we’re only 15 miles apart. I think it’s natural; we’re sort of bonded to each other. Football is more than a game, it involves the community spirit,” said Berke.
While the origin story may be lost to the mists of time, so many community members in Granville and Whitehall have lived the rivalry that the passion still burns brightly within area residents despite the passage of years.
For many years, even decades, the Granville-Whitehall football game was the game to attend in the region.
Millett said stores in both communities would close early so owners could attend. The 1970 game saw a crowd of about 7,500 turn out, Millett said.
Gould, who played football for Whitehall from 1988 through 1990, remembers cars being parked from the Whitehall school all the way to Route 4 and crowds lined all along the fence line.
Granville’s new coach, John Irion, played football for Queensbury from 1973 to 1976 and said even in Warren County the rivalry was well known.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries…I was always aware of that game,” he said.
Gould and Berke both recall that the tradition and importance of the Granville – Whitehall game transcended formal league or sectional rankings.
“You could lose every game but so long as you won that last game (against Whitehall) it made your season,” said Berke.
“It doesn’t matter what the records were,” agreed Gould.
Gould described one year when Whitehall had a winning record and Granville had a losing record but Whitehall was only able to scrape by. “It was a hell of a game.”
When passions burn this brightly, there are times when the flames spread out of control.
“We played Granville in Whitehall one year and they scored first. There was a pole vault made out of foam. Someone from Granville set that on fire…that was the worst thing they could do – that only excited my team,” Millett recalled.
Whitehall went on to win that game 45-6, Millett said.
Gould recalls the team’s bus receiving a police escort through Granville to the school and even remembers bottles being thrown at times.
In an effort to moderate the feelings, the Rotary Clubs of both towns got together to hold after-season dinners for both teams, alternating the locations each year.
“The whole purpose was to smooth tensions, lessen the hostility…it worked,” said Berke, a member of the Granville Rotary Club.
Coach Irion also supports resumption of the rivalry, but with Granville’s enrollment figures teetering on the boundary of Class C/D – Granville is only five students below the Class C level – he remains skeptical of reestablishing any lasting tradition.
“People were aware (of the rivalry), hopefully we make them aware again,” he said.
The Golden Horde and the Railroaders are scheduled to play on Oct. 13.