Impact of Gloversville’s 1987 championship football team still felt today

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Gloversville football coach Jim Robare (left) and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell (right), teammates on Gloversville’s last football team to win a Section II championship back in 1987, are both coaching teams in different Section II Super Bowl games this weekend. (File photos)

GLOVERSVILLE — Saturday afternoon, the Gloversville football team, led by coach Jim Robare, will head to Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie to face Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk in the Section II Class B Super Bowl.

A few hours later, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football team, coached by Matt Shell, will play for the Class A championship against Queensbury at Shenendehowa High School.

What connects the two? Robare and Shell were teammates in 1987, on Gloversville’s last football team to win a Section II championship.

“It’s crazy,” said Shell, a senior wide receiver for the 1987 Huskies. “That was a fortune to be a part of a team like that. It was a special group we were with.

“It’s a long time ago, but it’s still a great, great team. No doubt.”

It’s been 34 years since the Huskies last brought home an area title, capping off an undefeated 10-0 season with a 50-8 rout of Hudson for the Class B championship — the school’s second Section II title, which came six years after the first in 1981.

That Gloversville team, mentored by legendary coach Bob Gould, dominated its opposition throughout 1987, winning most of its games by lopsided margins and allowing its starters to rest shortly after halftime.

“We just scored a lot of points,” said Robare, who was a junior wide receiver and outside linebacker on the 1987 team. “The starting crew was always out after the first series in the third quarter, and then everybody else got to play.”

What made that team so special?

Well, for Shell, it comes down to one name — quarterback Tom Ciaccio.

“Tom was the best,” Shell said. “You have a quarterback completing 70% of his passes. It’s been a long time, but I still haven’t seen a quarterback better, and I’ll continue to say it. I know I might be skewed, but I don’t think many people wouldn’t agree with me. He was way ahead of his time, for sure.”

In an era before high-octane passing games were commonplace in high school football, Ciaccio’s scholastic numbers were scarcely to be believed.

As a senior in 1987, his 2,368 passing yards — while completing 66.7% of his passes — established a New York State record, as did his career total of 5,454 yards.

His favorite target during that magical 1987 season was Shell, whose 70 receptions and 1,029 receiving yards that year were both Section II records for the time.

Ciaccio — who went on to be Gloversville’s head coach and is now the superintendent at the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, which itself played for the Section II Class C title on Friday night — has many cherished memories from that year, with nearly as many of them coming from off the field as on the gridiron.

“Bob Gould created a family atmosphere that many of us just never forget,” Ciaccio said. “When we get together, we don’t talk about the championships, we talk about all the fun and little things that happened in practice, or on the bus, or after a game. That’s really what made it special. It was about what you went through with one another.”

One game does stick out for Ciaccio, the Huskies’ annual matchup with fierce Fulton County rival Johnstown, when the two teams met in front of a packed crowd at Husky Field despite playing in a driving snowstorm.

“Thousands of people lined the banks at Husky Field,” Ciaccio said. “It was in the middle of a blizzard. That really sticks out to me as a fun game we played in. It was a very memorable night. People still talk about the snow.”

Since that year, Gloversville has won just one league title — the Foothills Council championship in 2000 — and made a pair of Class A Super Bowl appearances, losing to Amsterdam in 1999 and La Salle Institute in 2000.

Robare, later an assistant during Gould’s later years as coach prior to his 2003 retirement, said he’s excited to be able to be part of another Gloversville championship bid.

“Whether you win or lose, you’ll remember the guys in the locker room, you’ll remember the teachers, you’ll remember the coaches, you’ll remember the community and what they did,” Robare said.

The Section II coaching fraternity has plenty of Gloversville roots. In addition to Robare and Shell, who is seeking his 10th Section II title at Burnt Hills since 2006, Shaker football coach Greg Sheeler played for the Huskies in the 1990s and Shenendehowa baseball coach Greg Christodulu was the star quarterback on Gloversville’s first area title team in 1981.

As a former member of that coaching brotherhood — he led the Huskies from 2004 to 2009 before moving on to an administrative career — Ciaccio is thrilled to see his alma mater try to bring a title back to Fulton County.

“I couldn’t be happier for Jim Robare and the Gloversville Huskies,” Ciaccio said. “To see them going into the sectional championship game obviously fills me with pride and brings back memories. I’m very happy for coach Robare being able to turn that program, in a very short time, back into a sectional contender.”

By Adam Shinder

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