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A Brief History of Football
Although organized football is not played today in Nunda, it was an important part of our community sport’s history - twice.
Nunda residents were already familiar with the sport of “foot ball” by the time the town had its own team. For several years many had followed the growing number of professional and college teams and players, and some had attended football games when traveling to New York, Buffalo or other cities. Nearby Mt. Morris had organized a team in 1899 and in the same year the Nunda News noted that in Tuscarora “school boys are playing the game foot ball. Their teacher, Mr. Clark, plays with them.” A few years later the Erie Railroad even offered a special excursion train to Buffalo for a game between a Watertown team and the “crack Oakdales of Buffalo.” Perry and Warsaw were both fielding high school teams by 1904.
Students at Nunda High School organized their first football team in September of 1904, naming sixteen year old Arthur Ostrander (son of a local doctor) as the team captain. The October 1st, 1904 “High School Notes” column in the Nunda News reported, “The foot ball team has been practicing a good deal lately. A greater portion of the suits have arrived, the rest being expected soon. They are trying to arrange for a game with Belfast some time next week.” No further mention of how the new team fared is found in the News. This might be due to the fact that editor Walter B. Sanders was no fan of the sport that he described as “one of the most dangerous and brutal of games” after reporting on the death of a young Friendship player killed during a game in Belmont.
Despite Sander’s views, Nunda football continued for several seasons. At that time there was no local high school league or organized schedule. The team manager, in 1905 19 year old Stanley Brown, (also a local doctor’s son) arranged the games, usually a home and away contest between teams. Belfast, Perry, Mt. Morris, Dansville and Craig Colony at Sonyea were common opponents. The rosters were not restricted to students. The Nunda team complained in the November 11, 1905 issue of the Nunda News that the loss to Perry “was due to the fact that our team which is strictly high school was ill-matched against the Perry eleven which played three men, who are not in high school, although former members.” It was also common for players and their coaches (often the school principal) to be unfamiliar with the game rules. According to the News, Nunda’s 12 to 0 victory over Craig Colony (Sonyea) in November 1909 “was a mouthy game from start to finish with numerous intermissions to look up the rules.”
It appears that 1909 was the final season for the “Nundas”, as the team was known. It is not clear what led to the demise of the program. It is likely the result of lack of participation and community support. Although the 1905 team was celebrated a banquet arranged by player’s parents, the News of September 1909 reported that it was “doubtful that the school will have a team - several of the old players not able to take part.” So by 1910 the first era of Nunda football was over.
The next era began with great fanfare in the fall of 1931. “School Football Team Organized” was the Nunda News headline on September 25, 1931. “ Thirty men from the Nunda high school reported for practice on the Foote Athletic Field last week. Coach (Robert) Coughlin put the boys thru quantities of stiff body building calisthenics, and the work of organizing a football team was begun….” A Field Day was soon held at the school highlighting the new program with the public “urged to attend.” The new team showed off their training routines as well as what they called their back bucking machine. “Moving pictures will be taken,” the News stated, “and it is hoped that many will be present.”
The team needed fans for more than cheering them along. The program was expensive. According to the Nunda News, the money allotted by the Board of Education was enough to buy 18 uniforms, eleven headgear, and three footballs. It was hoped that the sale of season tickets ($1.00 for four home games) would bring in funds to buy additional uniforms and practice equipment as well as a set of goal posts. Some local businesses contributed money and materials but the sale of tickets was slow and the program remained in the red.
Unlike the earlier football team, the new team was part of a county league and had eight games scheduled. The first was Livonia on Oct 2, resulting in the team’s first victory. That was the highpoint of the season, for the squad only managed one more win and one tie game. Despite five loses, the high school newspaper The Gab, remained optimistic. “Football season has come to an end here and we’re still hoping to do better.”
The 1932 season did not start well. “Foot ball so far looks pretty dull.” stated the September Gab. “Many players lost, many are not rejoining.” Despite the gloom, the team won the season opener against Perry and its first league game against Mt. Morris. The newspaper Rochester American even ran a story on October 9th titled, “Town Interest Rests in Team.” “Responsibility resting on the shoulders of the local lads is heavier than that borne by other high school teams and consequently interest of the whole township’s football enthusiasts centers around them.” The team played nine games that season but the season’s final record was not reported in the Nunda News or The Gab. When Coach Coughlin held the first practice of the 1933 season, only 11 boys came out. According to The Gab, the team lost all seven games of the year and four of the players sustained game injuries, including a broken arm and a fractured collarbone.
That was the end. In February 1934 the Livingston County High School Athletic Association announced that they had been informed that two teams, Greigsville and Nunda, were dropping their football programs. The Nunda News announced on September 14, 1934 “Instead of hearing ‘we want a touchdown’ boom up and down the sidelines of Nunda’s athletic field, the cry of ‘boot the bag’ is now the class cheer, as soccer has supplanted football.” Although there was some talk about a town touch football team forming in 1936, organized football in Nunda had come to an end.