By the time he climbed the stands at Nugent Stadium last fall, John Stubenvoll hadn’t worn a Harrison uniform in 21 years. Like other former Huskies, the one-time star believed a tradition he was so proud had slowly begun to erode.
In the past, Stubenvoll had shared gripes with other like-minded fans, only this time he decided to be different. And that’s how he ended up introducing himself to Steve Feeney that night in the Rye press box.
“John had the seed of an idea,” said Feeney, Rye Class of 1965 and his alma mater’s recognizable public address announcer. “He thought it would be a good idea if Rye and Harrison – not uncharacteristically – worked together to promote and enhance the rivalry.”
What grew from that brief meeting was something befitting of the area’s strongest sporting rivalry. Stubenvoll, Feeney and others from the neighboring communities joined forces to create the Rye/Harrison Tradition Committee. The 17-member body includes former and current players, coaches and administrators, all with a strong devotion to sustaining and growing the rivalry.
“Last year, I was with John Fava (a member of the 1955 Harrison team) and he said, ‘Nobody gives a crap about us anymore.’ That struck me,” Stubenvoll said. “Because I do. Steve does. And there are a lot of people out there who value tradition. And I think it’s a great time to bring these people together while tradition seems to be going by the wayside.”
It is that commitment to the Rye-Harrison rivalry in the communities that has elevated the game – many outsiders would say unfairly – above others in the area. But the proof is undeniable: Feeney, Stubenvoll and their committee were driving forces in urging administrators to schedule this year’s game, the 85th in their history.
Based on preseason rankings and Section 1’s scheduling matrix, Rye and Harrison were not scheduled to meet. The game, which is set for Saturday morning at Harrison High School, was shoehorned into the Class A schedule.
Stubenvoll said he has met with Section 1 executive director Jennifer Simmons. He and the committee were steadfast in promoting the importance of the game within their school districts. They also stressed the importance of scheduling Rye-Harrison as the final game of the regular season (last year the teams met Week 2) and returning to an afternoon kickoff. They were successful on all fronts with the exception of the 11 a.m. start.
But the committee’s objectives go beyond just the football game. It’s first touch will be honoring the 1955 teams on the 60th anniversary of their “Battle of the Century,” a 13-12 Harrison win. Players from both 1955 teams will be served a pregame brunch and then be honored on the field as part of the traditional pregame ceremony.
The committee hopes to extend its reach to organizing events for other Rye-Harrison sporting events and perhaps even with an academic competition.
“That would enhance the rivalry in a totally different way,” Feeney said. “As competitive as the schools are, I can envision it being as important as who won the football game.”
To formulate ideas, Feeney and Stubenvoll recruited both older committee members like Fava and others from subsequent decades. All of them shared the same passion, even some players still just in their 20s. Seniors Mike Nannariello (Harrison) and Chase Pratt (Rye) and their fathers were also invited to join.
Although it was Stubenvoll who first approached Feeney last year, Feeney said he and others in the communities first became experienced with self-organization in the wake of the 2004 season, the only time the game has not been played since 1936.
At a minimum, they want to ensure there are no more interruptions. They also hope to one day spur the restoration of traditions beyond the Rye and Harrison borders.
“When we’re confident enough, we want to have meetings with Sleepy Hollow and Ossining and others and help them have their games restored,” Feeney said. “We don’t want to be the only districts that ask for a scheduling modification. We didn’t ask for for that and we don’t want that.”
“I think we can be a catalyst,” Stubenvoll said. “You see what’s going on with the other rivalries. People are upset. We’re losing tradition, not only Harrison-Rye. If we can help them – if people can say, ‘This is what they did’ – that would be spectacular.”