High School Football in Saranac Lake
By Jim Clark
Beginning in the fall of 1923 high school football made its debut in Saranac Lake and it quickly became a very popular sport for both players and fans. Many towns and villages around the North Country looked forward to the weekend games. Newspaper coverage of games in the 1920’s and 1930’s was quite extensive throughout northern New York, and this certainly helped to make high school football a popular attraction in the early years. Saranac Lake High School quickly established a reputation for excellence on the field in the 1920’s and that reputation continues into the 21st Century. The efforts of players and coaches have been has been a great source of pride for the school and the community throughout the decades.
Bill McLaughlin, long time columnist for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, wrote numerous articles about high school football in Saranac Lake and once when writing about the past seasons he summed it up with these words. “Football was king. Rivalries were treasured, games were hard fought. They were the years of pep rallies, victory bonfires, torchlight parades, downtown snake dances, the barrel rush and the rumble seat”. Other times McLaughlin would write about the support from the community for the sport of football saying the downtown storefronts would be decorated for the season with football related items as Saranac Lake took great pride in their high school teams.
Varsity Head Football Coaches
|1923 - 1924||Russell Sackett||1953 - 1955||Bill Gallagher|
|1925 – 1936||Ken Wilson||1956 - 1958||Duke Benz|
|1937 – 1939||Art Mahoney||1959 - 1969||Fraser Sturgeon|
|1940 – 1943||Ken Wilson||1970 - 1984||John Raymond|
|1944 – 1944||Ron Knapp||1985 - 1985||Larry Ewald|
|1945 – 1945||Bill Leroy||1986 - 1991||John Raymond|
|1946 – 1946||Art Mahoney||1992 - 1994||Bruce Bullock|
|1947 – 1947||Lou George||1995 - 1998||John Raymond|
|1948 – 1951||Butler Sullivan||1999 - 2009||Mark Farmer|
|1952 – 1952||Ken Wilson||2010 -||Eric Bennett|
The First Game: In September 1923 the first game saw Saranac Lake record a 20-0 victory over Mineville. Touchdowns were scored by Tony Gedroiz, Bob Brewer, and Dick Lytle. Before the game began a parade led by the school band and student body took place from Main Street up to Jenkins Field to see the first kickoff in school history. Jenkins Field was located near the present day Petrova School.
Early Success: Ken Wilson took over the reins of the football program in 1925 and Saranac Lake responded by winning six consecutive Adirondack League Championships from 1925 through the 1930 season. Another championship was also won in 1933.
The Next Level: When John Raymond became the Varsity coach in 1970 he brought with him a style and determination needed to take the program to another level. In a few short years Coach Raymond’s team established Saranac Lake as one of the elite programs in the North Country. The success started by Coach Raymond has continued for decades. John Raymond retired with 164 wins, the most amongst SLHS varsity football coaches. Coach Raymond's overall record is 164-60-4 through 25 seasons at the varsity level.
During his 30 years (5 years at the JV level and 25 years at the Varsity level) of coaching football Raymond led Saranac Lake to numerous championship seasons. He took the then-Redskins football team all the way to the NYS Class C title game at the Carrier Dome in 1995 and also helped guide several teams to the state playoffs. In addition to football Raymond won championships in baseball and skiing.
All Time Record including regular season and post-season games: Through the 2018 season Saranac Lake is 434-313-27. The 2018 season was the 96th season of a long and proud tradition of high school football in Saranac Lake.
Pep Rallies: High school football led to the first night time pep rally being held in Saranac Lake. In the fall of 1937 the school organized a Friday night bonfire followed by students walking downtown to Berkeley Square for a pep rally. During the 1940’s and 1950’s Friday night pep rallies were a common event on Main Street and Berkeley Square during the season.
Homecoming: According to articles in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise from 1955 the Women's Civic Chamber is credited with coming up with the idea of Homecoming which was a chance for alumni to come home and see former classmates and friends. On the last weekend in October 1955 the first Homecoming weekend was held with over 100 out of town graduates and several hundred local graduates taking part in various activities throughout the weekend. Activities took place throughout the village including at the Elks Club and the Hotel Saranac, and spending Saturday afternoon at the Redskin football game was a must. During the summer letters would be mailed out to alumni informing them of the upcoming Homecoming date. As part of the weekend celebration recognition was given to the graduate who traveled the furthest to be part of the activities.
Rivarly Games: Beginning in the 1920’s all three Tri Lake villages had high school football teams and a great sports rivalry developed between Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Lake Placid. Games with Lake Placid were sometimes scheduled on November 11th (Armistice Day) and with this being a national holiday the game would not necessarily be played on a Saturday, but on whatever day of the week was November 11th. School bands from both schools would perform before this game, and the game usually attracted the biggest crowd of the season. 1924 was the first season these two teams got together on the gridiron and 1944 was the last game with Lake Placid. In November 1931 a few months before the 1932 Winter Olympic Games began, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake played to a scoreless tie before 2,500 fans in the Olympic Stadium. At the urging of the Lake Placid town leaders almost every business in Lake Placid closed for the afternoon so they could watch the rivalry game of 1931. In 1934 the rivalry became much more heated as Lake Placid came to Saranac Lake and defeated the Red and White for the first time. After the game many Lake Placid fans stormed the field and tried to take the goal post back to the Olympic Village. Many scuffles broke out and it took almost one hour for order to be restored. The Lake Placid News reported celebrations went on well into the night and said “numerous fans came home with bruises and black eyes and it was well worth it”
The Rivalry Games with Tupper Lake have a much longer tradition that dates back to the first season of 1923. Players and fans look forward to the annual event which decides who has bragging rights for another year. In 1949 Saranac Lake Mayor Tony Anderson issued a challenge to Tupper Lake Mayor William Byrne called the ‘Wheelbarrow Challenge”. The losing Mayor of the annual football game would have to push the winning Mayor in a wheelbarrow through the downtown streets. After Saranac Lake won the 1949 game Mayor Byrne added to the festivities by putting on snowshoes and pushing Mayor Tony Anderson down Main Street and Broadway to the Pontiac Theater. In 1954 after a Saranac Lake victory Mayor Anderson was given a ride through the streets of Tupper Lake, and as he was getting out of the wheelbarrow he bumped his knee on the pavement. Years later when his knee would bother him, Tony Anderson would tell people he had a trick knee as a result of an old football injury. In 1954 Mayor Anderson also purchased a trophy to be given to the winning team (eventually the trophy replaced the wheelbarrow ride), and that tradition continues to the present day. Saranac Lake won the 1954 game and thus the first Mayor’s trophy went to the Redskins. In 2012 and 2013 there was no Mayor's trophy's game as Saranac Lake is in Section VII and Tupper Lake is in Section X and the format of playing intersectional games during the regular season was discontinued. In 2014 the rivalry game was renewed and Saranac Lake kept possession of the Mayor's trophy with a victory over the Lumberjacks.
Nicknames: The early team nicknames included Red and White, Big Red, and Mountaineers. In December 1948 the nickname was changed to the Redskins and since the fall of 2001 teams are known as the Red Storm.
The Effect of World War II: The World War was on the minds of everyone in the 1940’s and high school football managed to continue but with changes. The head football coach of Saranac Lake, Art Mahoney, was called to serve his country and was gone for a few years. Various faculty members volunteered their time each season so the games could continue. During the 1940’s there were six different head coaches and schedules were also affected. In 1942 and 1943 only four games were played each season, and the games were against the nearest teams such as Tupper Lake, Lake Placid and Malone.
Leagues: In 1923 Saranac Lake belonged to the Adirondack League, in 1935 they entered the Northern League and in 1984 they joined the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference (CVAC).
Halftime entertainment: Many fans think of the school band or the cheerleaders when it comes to halftime entertainment, but back in the 1920’s the cross country team would sometimes hold their meets at halftime of the football games with the race ending on the field in front of all the cheering fans. The practice of cross country meets during halftime of games continued for many years and was still being done during the 1948 season.
Train Travel: Most away games are reached by bus, but in 1926 with a game in Malone the team and school band took the train to and from Malone. This is the only time the train was used to transport the local football team.
Polio Epidemic Affects Games and Travel: According to a September 21, 1956 article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise at the beginning of the 1956 season there was a polio outbreak centered in St. Lawrence County and the opening game for the Redskins at Gouverneur was affected. The team bus and two spectator buses were not allowed to go through Potsdam (the center of the epidemic) and had to take a lesser traveled route to get to the game. Dr. Clayton Steward, public health officer for the Saranac Lake area, cautioned anyone going to the game should be vaccinated. Some schools in the St. Lawrence County area had their season shortened as games were cancelled.
Honoring two local U.S. Marines: On October 16, 1982 before the annual Mayor's Trophy game a ceremony took place at the Petrova Field dedicating a new flag pole in memory of John Sparks of Tupper Lake and Chuck Pandolph, Sr. of Saranac Lake. Both men served in the Marine Corp and were very involved in many community activites. John Sparks died in 1978 at the age of 48 and Chuck Pandolph, Sr. died in 1973 at the age of 49.
Remembering Hugh Kelly: In 1942 during World War II Hugh Kelly died while serving in the Air Force. Kelly was a 1938 graduate of SLHS and one of the school's best football players during the mid 1930's. Kelly played football for four years serving as Captain during his senior year, was the Sports Editor of the school newspaper as well as Class President during his Junior year. Kelly's loss was felt throughout the community and the SLHS graduating class of 1943 dedicated it's Canaras Yearbook to him.
5th Quarter Club: This is a group of dedicated volunteers established in 1985 who have provided tremendous support to the football program throughout the years. From building a new press box and concession stand in 1987 to fundraising for equipment, uniforms, and hosting tailgate parties this group shows their school spirit in all they do.
Check out the Saranac Lake Football 5th Quarter Club on Facebook.
SLHS Varsity Football Achievements, Milestones, and Records
The following information includes both regular season and post-season games.
First game and also the first victory: In September 1923 the first game in school history resulted in a 20-0 victory over Mineville High School. The game was played in Saranac Lake on Jenkins Field that was located near the present day Petrova School.
Most points scored in a season: The 2010 team scored 428 points. The 2012 team scored 421 points and they are followed by the 1998 team that scored 407 points.
Fewest points allowed in a season: The 1925 team did not allow a single point all season and this is the only Saranac Lake team to win every game by a shutout. This year was also the first of six consecutive Adirondack League Championship under Ken Wilson.
Most points scored in a single quarter of a game: The 1925 team scored 41 points in the first quarter of a games versus Port Henry.
Most touchdowns scored by one player in a single game: Tom Wallace scored 11 touchdowns in a 1926 victory over Lake Placid. Wallace’s game was later featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not and it was referred to as “Point a Minute Wallace”. The 11 touchdowns is still a New York State record that has stood the test of time. In 1927 the Plattsburgh Daily Press did an article describing the many talents of Wallace and they referred to him as the “Galloping Ghost” of Saranac Lake. Ryan Roberts is next for Saranac Lake as he scored six touchdowns in 1998 versus Saranac Central. Roberts is just one of four players ever to score six touchdowns in a CVAC game.
Most touchdown passes thrown in one game: Matt Phelan threw 6 touchdowns passes in a 2012 game against Ausable Valley. Mike Phelan is next with 5 touchdown passes in a 2010 game against Tupper Lake.
Most touchdown passes thrown in one season: Tristin Fitzgerald threw 24 touchdown passes during the 2014 season. Matt Phelan threw 24 touchdown passes during the 2012 season and Matt also threw 20 touchdown passes during the 2011 season. Brandon Patraw is next with 16 TD passes in 2008.
Most career touchdown passes thrown: Matt Phelan threw 44 touchdown passes during his Red Storm career and Tristin Fitzgerald is next with 41 touchdown passes in his career.
Most consecutive games of throwing a touchdown pass: Tristen Fitzgerald threw at least one touchdown pass in 13 consecutive games starting with the opening game of the 2014 season and including the first two games of the 2015 season. Matt Phelan threw at least one touchdown pass in 12 consecutive games starting with the last two games of the 2011 season and carrying over to the first ten games of the 2012 season.
Most pass completions in a single game: Tristin Fitzgerald completed 28 passes in 2014 versus Peru.
Most passing yards in a single game: Will Coats passed for 360 yards in a 2016 game against Peru. The 360 yards is the third most yards thrown by a quarterback in the history of Section 7.
Most touchdown passes caught in one season: Kevin Morgan caught 15 touchdown passes in 2012 while Steve Burpoe is next with 12 touchdown receptions in 2008 followed by Mike Burpoe who caught 10 touchdown passes in 2011.
Most passes caught in a single game: Joe Viscardo had 12 pass receptions in a 2015 game versus Ausable Valley. Joe Viscardo also had 11 pass receptions in 2016 versus Peru, and Mike Burpoe had 11 pass receptions in a 2012 game against Hoosick Falls.
Most career pass receptions: Joe Viscardo ended his three year career with 132 passes caught.
Most career receiving yards: Joe Viscardo (2014-2016)finished with 1,917 career receiving yards which is the most ever in the history of Section 7.
Touchdown passes of at least 90 yards: Connor Kelly had a 98 yard touchdown pass to Kevin Provost in 2002 versus Tupper Lake. Jarred Amell had a 94 yard TD pass to Peter VanDien in 1995 against Moriah. Mike Todd threw a 93 yard TD pass to Troy Farmer in 1984 versus Peru. Sean Morgan threw a 90 yard TD pass to Kenny Lawrence in 1976 versus Gouverneur.
Players with at least 20 touchdowns scored in one season: Ryan Roberts scored 24 touchdowns in 1998, Tom Wallace scored 24 touchdowns in 1926, Ryan Ratelle scored 23 touchdowns in 1996 and Travis Rabideau scored 22 touchdowns in 2004.
Touchdown runs of at least 90 yards: In 2010 Forrest Morgan had two touchdown runs of 91 yards each. Morgan’s first 91 yard TD came against Massena and the second one came against Moriah. In 1977 Pete Camelo had a 90 yard TD run versus Potsdam.
Most consecutive games of rushing for over 100 yards: Travis Rabideau rushed for over 100 yards in 10 consecutive games during the 2004 season. Ryan Roberts rushed for over a 100 yards in 9 consecutive games during the 1998 season.
Most yards rushing in one game: James Trummer rushed for 260 yards in 1999 versus Saranac Central. Ryan Ratelle is next with 233 yards in 1996 against Moriah.
Players who have rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season: Rick Samuels, Rob McCoy, Bruce Higginbotham, DJ Austin, Ryan Ratelle, Ryan Roberts,Travis Rabideau and Jarrett Ashton. Travis Rabideau is the only player in school history is rush for over 1,000 yards in two different seasons.
Most yards rushing in a season: Ryan Roberts ran for 1,604 yards during the 1998 season while Travis Rabideau rushed for 1,420 during the 2004 season.
Players who have rushed for the most yards in their career: Travis Rabideau rushed for 2,872 yards , Jarrett Ashton rushed for 2,550 yards, and Ryan Roberts rushed for 2,270 yards.
Longest touchdown run with a missed field goal attempt: In 1995 Glen Stearns returned a missed field goal attempt by Beekmantown and ran 100 yards for a score.
Longest touchdown in school history: Brady Pratt ran 101 yards with an interception against Massena in 2003.
Most fumble recoveries in one game by a single player: Hunter Moon recovered 4 fumbles in a 2014 game against Ausable Valley.
Most interceptions in one game by a single player: Mickey Blair picked off 3 passes in a 1954 game against Tupper Lake, Steve McCormick intercepted 3 passes in a 1987 game against Plattsburgh, and Ryan Meyer had 3 interceptions in a 2018 game against Ausable Valley.
Most interceptions in one game by the entire team: During an October 2005 victory over Malone the Red Storm defense had 6 interceptions in the game.
Most safeties recorded in one season: The 1987 Redskin defense recorded 4 safeties during the season.
Longest field goal: Three players share the record. Tod Fobare kicked a 37 yard field goal in 1975 versus Gouverneur, and Jeremy Rich kicked a 37 yard field goal in 1997 against Saranac Central, and Drew Sturgeon kicked a 37 yard field goal in 2015 against Peru.
Most field goals kicked in one season: During the 1981 season John Goodrow kicked four field goals throughout the season and during the 2015 season Drew Sturgeon also kicked four field goals.
Fewest points scored in a game and still earned a victory: In 1982 Saranac Lake defeated Ogdensburg 3-0 as John Goodrow kicked a 19 yard field goal for the only score.
Longest kickoff returns for a touchdown: Jeff Vossler returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Peru in 2000. Jason Rabideau had a 94 yard return for a touchdown against Plattsburgh in 1994. Ryan Ratelle had a 93 yard return for a touchdown against Cambride in 1995. Glen Stearns had a 90 yard return for a touchdown against Leroy in 1995.
Most kickoffs returned for a touchdown by one player: Brady Pratt returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns. In 2002 he had returns of 88 yards and 84 yards and in 2003 he had a return of 89 yards.
Longest punt return for a touchdown: Tom Vossler returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown against Beekmantown in 2006.
Unusual touchdown to start a game: In the opening game of the 1925 season Tom Wallace kicked off for Saranac Lake and the ball skidded past all the opposing Lake Placid players and ended up in the end zone where Bill Duprey fell on it for a Saranac Lake touchdown.
Longest unbeaten streak: From October 1975 to October 1978 the Redskins had an unbeaten streak of 26 games that included 24 wins and 2 ties. At the time this was the longest active unbeaten streak in New York Sate.
Longest run from scrimmage and did not score a touchdown: In a 1956 game against Tupper Lake, Charlie Hoffer took a handoff at the Saranac Lake 9 yard line and ran 90 yards only to be pushed out of bounds at the Lumberjacks 1 yard line.
Most Quarterback sacks by one player in a season: Scott LaMay had 13 QB sacks during the 1983 season and Bryan Higgenbotham had 12 QB sacks in 1982.
Most point after touchdowns (PAT) kicked in a single game: Seth Pickreign kicked 8 PAT's in 2012 versus Ausable Valley. Second most is shared by six players who each kicked six PAT’s in one game: Will Ellsworth in 1992 versus Tupper Lake, Ryan McHugh in 2004 versus Massena, Nick Fortune in 2006 versus Malone, Kyle Dora in 2011 versus Ausable Valley, Seth Pickreign in 2012 versus Plattsburgh, and Drew Sturgeon who did it twice in 2014 both times against Ausable Valley (once in the regular season and once during the playoffs)
Most point after touchdowns (PAT) kicked in one season and career: Drew Sturgeon kicked 31 extra points during the 2014 season and Seth Pickreign kicked 29 extra points during the 2012 season. Drew Sturgeon kicked 57 extra points during his three year career with the Red Storm.
Most seasons as Varsity Head Coach: John Raymond coached for 25 seasons followed by Ken Wilson who coached for 17 seasons. Besides coaching both men were teachers in the local school system, both served as Principal for a while, both served a period of time as the Director of Athletics ,and both served as Superintendent of Schools for a period of time. John Raymond retired from coaching in 1998 and Ken Wilson retired from coaching in 1952.
Former SLHS players who went on to become the varsity head football coach at their alma mater: Butler Sullivan, Mark Farmer, and Eric Bennett hold the distinction of being a player and later becoming the varsity head coach at SLHS.
First game played on the current field that runs along the present day Canaras Avenue: On September 14, 1963 Saranac Lake defeated St. Lawrence Central by a score of 26-0. Bruce Goetz scored the first two touchdowns on the new field and Pete MacIntyre scored the first defensive touchdown as he returned an interception for a score. George Swentusky scored the final touchdown of the day for the Redskins. Prior to this field the games were played on the field next to Petrova school.
Ken Wilson Field: On November 7, 1987 the current field became known as Ken Wilson Field in honor of the man who led the varsity football program for 17 years in a career that saw him coach at least one season in four different decades (1920’s to the 1950’s). Wilson’s teams also won seven Adirondack League Championships in the 1920’s & 1930’s. The dedication took place at halftime of a game that ended with the Redskins defeating St. John’s by a score of 7-0 in a battle of teams that entered the game tied for first place.
Wilson-Raymond Field: In August 2018 the Saranac Lake Central School District Board of Education approved re-naming Ken Wilson Field to Wilson-Raymond Field. Ken Wilson and John Raymond were two long time coaches and educators who contributed greatly to helping students achieve athletic and academic success while at Saranac Lake High School. The official dedication of this name change for the field was held on June 4, 2019.
Most wins in a season: Saranac Lake has won 10 games in five different seasons beginning in 1995 followed by 1998, 2008, 2010, 2012.
Games at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse: Saranac Lake has played two games in the Carrier Dome beginning back in 1989 when they recorded a 28-14 victory over Taconic Hills of Section 2. This was a regional playoff game and in 1989 NYS did not have a full playoff system in place for high school football, therefore teams could not go on any further. In 1995 the Redskins advanced to the NYS Class C Championship Game and ended up losing the contest to Leroy of Section 5 by a score of 37-27.
Most players from one family: The Morgan family had produced nine players during the years of Saranac Lake High School varsity football through the 2016 season. Forrest “Dew Drop” Morgan played in the 1940’s followed by five of his sons, John, Terry, Sean, Bryan, and Dermot plus grandsons Forrest, Kevin and DJ. Dew Drop's oldest son, Jim, did not play at SLHS but did play at St. Pius X High School in Saranac Lake.
In 1923 the following had the honor and distinction of being the first high school football team in Saranac Lake: Bob Brewer, John Cook, Bill Duprey, Edgar Duprey, Henry Fadden, Tony Gedroiz, Bob Herron, Bill Lytle, Dick Lytle, Lou Mahony, Walter Mulflur, Dick O’Brien, Ed Twokey, and Merv Witherbee. The team manager was Cornelius J. Carey, the assistant coach was Al Jordan, and the head coach was Russell Sackett.
1st win: In September 1923 in the first game in school history Saranac Lake posted a 20-0 victory over Mineville High Schol.
100th win: In September 1959 the Redskins defeated Tupper Lake by a score of 13-6.
200th win: In October 1984 the Redskins recorded a 32-6 victory over Saranac Central.
300th win: In September 1998 the Redskins defeated Beekmantown by a score of 35-6.
400th win: In September 2012 the Red Storm earned a 30-6 victory over Ticonderoga
Saranac Lake High School Football Championships
1925 Adirondack League Champions
1926 Adirondack League Champions
1927 Adirondack League Champions
1928 Adirondack League Champions
1929 Adirondack League Champions
1930 Adirondack League Champions
1933 Adirondack League Champions
1975 Northern Athletic Conference Champions
1976 Northern Athletic Conference Co-Champions
1977 Northern Athletic Conference Champions
1980 Northern Athletic Conference Champions
1981 Northern Athletic Conference Champions
1983 Northern Athletic Conference Class C Champions
1987 Champlain Valley Athletic Conference (CVAC) Champions
1988 CVAC Champions and North Country Super Bowl Champions
1989 CVAC Champions, North Country Super Bowl Champions, NYS Regional Champions, and NYS East Champions.
1990 CVAC Champions and North Country Super Bowl Champions
1991 CVAC Champions
1992 CVAC Champions, Section 7/10 Champions, and NYS Regional Champions
1993 CVAC Champions
1995 CVAC Champions, North Country Super Bowl Champions, NYS Regional Champions, and NYS East Champions
1997 CVAC Champions, Section 7/10 Champions
1998 CVAC Champions, Section 7/10 Champions, and NYS Regional Champions
2004 CVAC Champions
2007 CVAC Champions
2008 Section 7/10 Champions and NYS Regional Champions
2010 Section 7/10 Champions and NYS Regional Champions
2011 Section 7/10 Champions
2012 CVAC Champions and Section 7/10 Class C Champions
2013 CVAC Section 7 Class C Champions
2014 CVAC Section 7 Class C Champions and Section 7/10 Class C Champions
2016 CVAC Section 7 Class C Champions