Memories of Mount Vernon, Memorial Field, Football and other Successes!
March 15, 2006
Richard J. Garfunkel
The 2004 version of the MVHS Knights football team that is currently 7-2 is one of their best in recent history. Mount Vernon did have great football teams, in the pre-AB Davis and Edison Tech days of the 1920's. Their great coach was “Dad” White and when I was in high school, Class of 1963, he was still talked about by the old-timers Ed Williams, Lorenzo Thomas, and Al Cain.
One of the great stars to come out of MVHS in the 1920's was Frank Carideo, who later became Knute Rockne's last All-America at quarterback (In 1930 Notre Dame went 10-0-0, had a winning streak of 19 and claimed their 3rd consecutive national championship with an ecumenical lineup that included star running backs Martin Brill and Marchmont “Marchy” Schwartz.) Frank Carideo came back to Davis and was invited to speak to us by our gym teacher and my baseball coach Bill Sywetz.
In 1963 MVHS existed only on paper accept for their sport's teams. Because of the school merger we were suddenly able to compete with our old natural rivals New Rochelle, and White Plains. In wrestling, we were 13-1 and we slaughtered them both on our way to the first of five straight Section I titles. In basketball we had an excellent team that beat New Rochelle twice and split with White Plains in spite of their great high-scoring, high school All-American Mal Graham, who later went on to star at NYU, and play for the Celtics. But our real glory came on football gridiron where we were 6-1. Led by Ray Johnson, Jim Finch, Noel McFarland, Tony Taddey, Bob Spana, and others. We only lost to Port Chester, because of our team being decimated by the flu. That great team, led by our rookie coach Gene Ridenour, with his assistants, the late Joe LaRocca and the late great Henry Littlefield, beat both archrivals New Rochelle and White Plains for the first time since 1948. The exuberant overflowing crowd rushed onto the Huguenot’s field and tore down the wooden goal posts. The next day, the principal, Dr. Howard Spalding, asked that the “hooligans” who pilfered the goalposts return them to the New Rochelle field immediately. Of course, little did Dr. Spalding know, that the goal posts were reduced to bare kindling! In fact I had a 10″ piece of that hallowed wood for a number of years, with the date written on it red! It disappeared without a trace when my parents moved from Mount Vernon some years later. That team was quite good, and I am sure that over the next forty years or so, we probably only had one, or two seasons, where we were able to beat both White Plains and New Rochelle. Of course this year's team (2004) has a chance to avenge, in the Section I finals, their earlier 48-6 loss to the Huguenots. Until they do that, the 1963 edition must be still considered the best since the 1920's (MVHS was handily beaten by the Purple Wave in the Sections.)
Memorial Field was always an exciting place for me. I was able to play my first baseball games under the lights during the summers and also get eaten alive by the mosquitoes. This was long before some genius had invented “Off.” It was here I hit two homeruns, in the Pony Grad semi-finals off Patsy Argentina, who during the school year pitched for our cross-town rival Edison Tech. Memorial Field also played host to the legendary Eddie Feigner and his remarkable “King and His Court” team. This remarkable 4-man softball team always took on the best our locals could muster. Invariably, “The King” would strike out batters from 2nd base while being blindfolded. The “King and His Court” were beyond remarkable.
I also got see the old Mount Vernon Eagles play semi-pro football with my great friend Randy Forrest as one of their stars. Randy with his life-long friend, the late great Johnny Counts had made mincemeat out of AB Davis in the middle 1950’s when they both starred for New Rochelle, and their legendary Coach Lou Amunson. Later on Randy became an assistant wrestling coach to the fabulous aforementioned Henry Littlefield, and when Hank retired and moved on to Amherst in September of 1967, Randy became MVHS’s head wrestling coach and led the now named “Knights” to even more greatness. (Today, in 2006, I play tennis under the bubble covering the courts at Memorial Field and as I walk down the stairs I look wistfully out to that old field and remember years gone by.)