Middies and Raiders Vie for Erie Bell

Century-old rivalry renews Oct. 10 in Port Jervis
By Yvonne Marcotte
Yvonne Marcotte
Yvonne Marcotte
October 7, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2015

PORT JERVIS—Although it’s only a game, the Erie Bell football game between Middletown and Port Jervis is one of the state’s great rivalries and goes back to 1897. The former railroad towns promise an exciting match-up on Oct. 10 in Port Jervis.

“I don’t think anything rivals it,” says Middie head football coach Billy Donahue. “It’s something the school still gets excited about.”

Formidable Competitor

The matchup features Class A Port Jervis with a 4-1 record taking on Class AA Middletown with a 3-2 record.

It’s a big game for this town.
— Jalen Conklin, Port Jervis cornerback

Donahue says the schools have evolved in different ways. “Generations of people have played football for Port Jervis,” he says. “Ours has been more of a community in transition. We’ve had a lot of influx into the city.”

Each has their own game plan. Donahue says his team is counting on speed, especially from running back Jordan Bryan.

Port Jervis Coach Matt Polanis wants to keep Bryan off the field as much as possible. “Obviously Mr. Bryan is a heck of a runner, a good runner. We want to make sure he has limited time on the field.”

Bryan has emerged as a mentor for the young team. “They haven’t experienced the things that I was fortunate enough to experience last year. When things go bad, or things don’t go our way, I just try to encourage my team to keep their head up.”

We know they are a good team.
— Billy Donahue, Middletown head coach

The Saturday game gives the Middies an extra day to prepare and is not taking anything for granted. “We know they are a good team. We are by no means expecting an easy game, so we are going to prepare.” Donahue appreciates Port’s play. “Port Jervis is tenacious. I know that. They don’t make many mistakes, and they make teams pay when they make mistakes.”

Jason Napoleon, who plays right guard and also defensive tackle expects his team to “just work hard, communicate, and get the job done. You always want to get [the Erie Bell] back. You don’t want to lose something that you worked hard for.”

A Community Affair

Players on the Port Jervis team can point to fathers, even grandfathers, and other family members who played in the game. Many will come to see the next generation on the field.

Polanis had a game at the beginning of the week and his players needed time to recover. “We are in a scramble mode but with the technology that we have today, we have all their film online.” He said his coaching staff prepped over last weekend and set the game plan the following Tuesday.

It’s really more on pride than on anything.
— Port Jervis Football Captain Tim Shearer

Polanis said the game was scheduled at the height of the season over Columbus Day weekend to generate a good turnout. It’s planned as the school’s homecoming game. The weekend will also have a hall of fame event where former players are inducted into the high school hall of fame.

“With Monday off, we are hoping that a lot of people can come and watch the game.” Polanis expects 3,000 to 4,000 people to see the game, unusual for a high school football game in the county.

Port Jervis team captain and middle linebacker Tim Shearer says “it’s really more on pride than on anything. It’s important to make a statement, to beat a big AA school. There’s a lot of pride.”

Cornerback Jalen Conklin said the team obviously wants to bring the Bell home. “It’s a big game for this town.”

Polanis wants his team to control the ball and keep the offense on the field, finish the drives, and “get some points on the board.”

Long-Standing Rivalry

This football rivalry has a long and storied history. A great sports rivalry carries three qualities—rivals have to be similar to a degree, they need to meet on a regular basis (think Army and Navy) and the teams have to be evenly matched over the long haul. Donohue says that the Erie Bell has gone back and forth since he last played in 1997. Polanis says the rivalry is strong. “It is intense but friendly afterwards.”

You’re representing your team, coaches, your family, and your school.
— Matt Polanis, head coach, Port Jervis High School football team

A big part of it is the school can have the Erie Bell in its hallowed halls. “It’s tied into the history of Middletown and Port Jervis with the railroad connecting the two towns,” Donahue said. The Erie Bell is an old railroad car bell from a railroad linking the two cities. The inside of the bell is painted blue as it now sits in the lobby of Middletown High School. The winner of the game retains the Erie Bell for one year in their school and bragging rights.

With its AA class standing, Middletown team faces a team that plays not only for the bell but for pride. It’s personal for Polanis, whose father coached the Port team and whose brothers played here. “You’re playing for pride and that’s personal,” he says. Polanis said the players are very aware of their community. “You’re representing your team, coaches, your family, and your school. [The players] all buy in on that in trying to represent our town and our school in a positive light.”

Beyond the Game

Studies have pointed out several ways high school athletics benefits students. Students represent their community on the field. “These athletes learn the fun of team rivalries and revel in the praise of a job well done for their school.” Young athletes improve physically, they miss less school and their grades improve. They learn the three Ps so necessary in life: persistence, patience, and practice. They learn how to fit in. “Student athletes must find their place, whether it is to be a leader of the team or to play a supporting role,” according to publicschoolreview.com.

When things go bad, or things don’t go our way, I just try to encourage my team to keep their head up.
— Jordan Bryan, running back and team mentor, Middletown varsity football team

High school athletics are filled with positive mentors, from the coaches on the sidelines to the leaders on the team. Students who participate in sports often forge close friendships with others on the team. These relationships ground them mentally, emotionally, and health-wise throughout the high school years.

Older team members set good examples and often provide advice and guidance to younger athletes both on and off the field. Practice and games take up plenty of a student’s time, leaving much less for school work and other activities. Athletes must learn time management skills if they are to get everything finished. From game play, athletes acquire a mindset for success that will hold them in good stead later in life.

Both coaches expressed their respect for their opponent. “I have a lot of respect for [the Port Jervis] program and the coaches and what they do,” Donohue said.

For both teams, it’s a big game. “It’s that one game that everyone looks forward to, that everybody marks on their calendar,” Polanis said.

“It’s a great atmosphere, great crowd, whether it’s played in Middletown or Port, it’s always just a special, special game,” Donahue said.

The game will be played at Port Jervis on Oct. 10 at 1:30.

To contact this reporter, email yvonne.marcotte@epochtimes.com.