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T-NT Classic, Rivalry Game With Generations of Memories

It’s more than just a football game. It’s something that is deeply woven into the communities and families in the Twin Cities. It’s passed down generation to generation. It binds families and, for one week in the fall, spurs more pride in your hometown than perhaps any other week during the year.

The week of the T-NT Football Classic.

On Oct.14, the Warriors and Lumberjacks will lock up for the 107th time in the history of this cross-Canal rivalry when North Tonawanda visits Clinton H. Small Stadium at 6pm.

The Class A Lumberjacks (4-2 overall) come into this meeting holding a 68-37-9 edged in the series and a 15 year winning streak over the Class B Warriors, who are 2-4.

It’s also the time of year when critics point to the imbalance in the rivalry, get on their soapbox and say it’s time to end T-NT. While the outside observer seems to see nothing more than a large school putting up lopsided wins over a small school year after year, those in the trenches playing and coaching in the game see so much more. They see tradition. A sense of community pride that doesn’t come along every day.

“It’s a process and production and it is bigger than the game itself,” said Jacks head coach Henry Fumerelle, who served as an assistant at Tonawanda before coming to NT last season.

The critics who say it’s time to end T-NT forget, or may not even know, that T-NT is the longest football rivalry in the state of New York and it was also named as one of the 50 greatest rivalries in the country. They also forget how close Tonawanda came to victory in 2006 and 2012. A matter of one or two plays in those games would have given the Warriors victory and the rivalry more balance.

Tonawanda head coach Joe Kelly, having also seen both sides of the rivalry as an NT assistant 2012-14, said this event goes deeper than the final score of a football game. It is something truly special and part of what makes both communities so unique.

“As a history teacher it’s kind of odd that I would say some traditions are ridiculous and we need to move on. This is not one of those (traditions),” Kelly said. “It’s really a David and Goliath story. Kids, when they have rivalry games, have something to look forward to every year.”

Kelly said teams without natural, lasting rivalry games to look forward to sometimes see a drop in player intensity or focus as the season rolls into the final week of the regular season. Tonawanda and North Tonawanda are lucky to have this rivalry and Kelly believes it should remain.

The spirit week events of pep rallies, car parades and bon fires are all tied into the T-NT experience. A week that also includes the T-NT Luncheon. Sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of the Tonawanda’s and the Rotary Club, the T-NT Lunch held at the Stephen Sikora Post gives the Tonawanda and North Tonawanda players, cheerleaders and coaches a moment in the spotlight and recognition that no other football rivalry in WNY can claim.

“It’s definitely something you’ll remember,” said NT senior Alex Johnson, who will be playing in his final T-NT football game.

“It’s more like a thing for your town. You go out and win for your town. It means a lot of people are proud of you. You’re proud of where you live. You’re proud of the people you play with, go to school with. It gets emotional at some point and it makes you feel good.” Kelly, who played football for Kenmore West, said they Battle of Kenmore rivalry, as historic it is in its own right, can’t touch T-NT.

“When I played at Kenmore West and we played Kenmore East we thought that was a big deal. That is nothing compared to this,” said Kelly. “Don’t get me wrong, I love that rivalry and they were talking about ending that too because it was so one sided….It shouldn’t change. There are some things that just need to be kept alive.”

Those who think the rivalry has run its course point to the size of the two schools and that they should find new rivals closer to their size. NT should perhaps begin a rivalry with Kenmore West or Niagara-Wheatfield, while Tonawanda might be better suited to playing Kenmore East or maybe Depew. But those who say that forget that rivalries cannot suddenly be manufactured over night. Or washed away over night either. Regardless of the results this game means, and continues to mean, something special to people.

Boys on both sides of the Erie Canal grow up playing football, dreaming of the day when they can pull on a varsity jersey and represent their high school, family, friends and community in this game.

Tonawanda sophomore Zach Braddell is among the kids on both teams looking forward to play in his first varsity T-NT Classic. “When I was younger I’d watch all the older guys play as hard as they could and that’s what I aspired to be when I was younger,” said Braddell.

“I think it’s something that’s great for the communities,” said Fumerelle. “It’s been around forever and it should be around forever.”

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