When Louis Blackwell learned financial constraints would force him to return to his home district in Elmsford, he knew what that meant: Four years at Alexander Hamilton, a school that hadn’t fielded a football team since 1988.
“Me and my parents were nervous I wasn’t going to have anywhere to play football,” he said. “I’ve been playing since the first grade.”
Now, Blackwell and his future Hamilton classmates won’t have to stop. The school has formed a combined team with Briarcliff High School and will officially begin play when practice opens Monday.
In fact, if athletic director Rob Pollok (pictured center) and his supporters have it their way, the partnership will be the path to a program of their own.
“I see this as a stepping stone,” Pollok said. “Mergers are meant to build programs. They’re not meant to be lifetime marriages for both schools. It is my goal to one day step outside my office and watch a football game on our home field.”
The school couldn’t even harbor that dream were it not for Briarcliff. They first came together during a conference meeting last school year and both school boards approved the merger last winter.
Briarcliff’s varsity numbers had hovered in the low 20s in recent years as interest dwindled at the lower levels.
“I’ve been there a long time. Most years you have in the low 20s, but each year we were getting less and less coming up from the modified,” Briarcliff coach John Consorti said. “We saw in the future that the numbers weren’t there, basically.
“It wasn’t working anymore. We do have some good kids. We just needed a way to bolster things and give them an opportunity to continue to play football.”
Hamilton students just needed an opportunity, period. The district has watched several of its top athletes leave town and star for other teams, most notably local Catholic programs, but also other public schools. Case in point: Woodlands’ star running back Tyrone Barber is a former Hamilton student who sparked the Falcons to last year’s Class C championship.
Pollok, a former coach at Suffern, has a strong football background. He played at Clarkstown South for Tom Lynch (North Rockland’s head coach) and collegiately at C.W. Post.
He held an interest meeting for students at the end of the 2011-12 school year and followed up with a survey early last school year. Of the 35 student who expressed interest, 30 completed the survey and two-thirds of them had played organized football before.
Despite attending school the last two years at Iona Grammar, Blackwell grew up playing for the Greenburgh Falcons. Other students played for the White Plains’ Wolverines.
“I brought that info to our superintendent and said, ‘Here’s an opportunity. Here’s the interest level,’ ” Pollok said.
Briarcliff now expects to add roughly 25-30 Hamilton students, several of which have already participated in summer workouts and camps.
“I think it’s one of those things that will be mutually beneficial for both schools,” said Chris Drosopoulos, athletic director at Briarcliff.
Briarcliff/Hamilton will host its home games at Purchase College as Briarcliff High School completes construction on a new turf field. Consorti also will include Pollok on his staff to ease the transition, although that process began instantly.
“We’ve all gotten closer and closer ever since the first day,” said Blackwell, a freshman tight end and defensive end expected to be among those on the varsity. “We’ve been exchanging numbers. We’ve gotten in contact with their kids to go to the gym and work out. It will help both of us a lot. We brought up their numbers and they gave us football.”