By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Fans — Fifty years of history lines our gridiron here today. Players, cheerleaders, coaches, anyone who’s ever had anything to do with Grand Island High School football will assemble, as many as they can, to say hail and farewell to Masters Field.
For 50 years, Viking athletes (no problem with THAT nickname) have left their marks on that chilly, windswept surface, dating back to a time when high school sports was almost “no girlz aloud.” And while boys and girls soccer, lacrosse and track have added their peculiar enthusiasm to the field, it is football for which it was first intended and it is football which will sign it off, a 2 p.m. game vs. Williamsville North, the last ever to be played there. A new playground opens next fall.
Viking football is both unique and ironic. Grand Island has won well over two-thirds of its games against opponents large and small —w 327 wins, 148 losses, seven ties, (pre-overtime.) Its continuity is without parallel — two coaches, the second of whom played quarterback for the first.
Gene Masters, for whom the field is named (he was against it), started the program here, after five years at Brocton. Yes, that Brocton, home to an unspeakable football tragedy last month when one of its players died from injuries sustained in a game at Portville. Gene was a pioneer at Brocton, too, expanding the program from what was then a delightful, high-scoring diversion, six-man football.
When Brocton moved up to 11-man, Coach Masters, fresh out of Fredonia State, told his new conference that in scheduling, he wanted Brocton to play the very strongest teams. That was Gene all over the place. How sad he would have been to first see football so regress at Brocton that it had to merge its program with neighboring Westfield.
Among the players Gene developed here was a quarterback named Dean Santorio, all-Western New York in 1985. Dean became Gene’s assistant, then his successor. Things hardly missed a beat. Their winning percentages are nearly identical. This year, Grand Island weathered a series of injuries remindful of the Bills and will again enter the top tier of the playoffs.
Yet with all this, Grand Island has never developed a fervor for football comparable to, say, the steel and coal regions of Pennsylvania. Three digits suffice for crowd size. Fortunes do not rise and fall with football. Two weeks ago, a savvy promoter scheduled the Taste of Grand Island on the same day as football Homecoming. In the villages of mines and mills, that would have gotten him run out of town.
No “seat licenses” here. A hot dog at Theodore’s costs more than a ticket to Viking football and the refreshments are pretty good, too. You might call it disinterest; we call it perspective. Come visit. Bring a blanket and a seat cushion, too.
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