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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 24, 2006

The Voorheesville football team

By Tim Matteson

VOORHEESVILLE — The Voorheesville football team will be relying on a strong and experienced defense this season as it builds off last year’s success.

Last fall, the Blackbirds won their division of Class C and advanced to the sectional semifinals.

"Our strength right now is our defense," Voorheesville Coach Joe Sapienza said. "We have six starters returning on defense."

Sapienza is also impressed with the way his team has come along in the pre-season.

"We’re ahead of where I expected us to be," he said after practice on Tuesday. "The big thing is we need to see somebody else. We’ve been banging heads with each other. We’re ready to go up against somebody else for awhile."

The Blackbirds will get the chance to bang heads with another team when they scrimmage against Broadalbin-Perth and Johnstown on Saturday.

"We need to get out there and see who responds to game situations," Sapienza said after practice on Tuesday. "We’re a bit battered. The one thing with this in practice is they are very physical. They like to play physical.

"I shortened up today," Sapienza added. "I feel right now we need a couple of days to heal before Saturday."

"Ahead of the game"

"This is one of the better pre-seasons," said Tim Robinson, one of the Birds’ five captains. "No one came in out of shape. We are ahead of the game this year."

Robinson is joined by seniors Steve Cardinal, Sean Hognestad, Charlie McGrail, and junior Adam Duncan as captains.

"We know a lot on the defense," Cardinal said. "We have a lot of veterans back."

"We have more than half of our defense back," Robinson added.

The team has been working a lot on offense and getting new quarterback Jay Conde adjusted to the varsity. Conde is replacing Andy Catellier, who was a three-year starter for the Blackbirds.

"I’m pleased with the progress of the offense," Sapienza said. "We’ll be balanced. We have several guys that can run the ball."

"We have done lots of offense," Robinson said. "We’ve spent double time on offense."

Sapienza also said that the Birds will have a lot of players who can catch the ball.

"We are deep at receiver," the coach said. "As the season progresses, we’ll spread the field more and we’ll put an extra receiver out there. Jay’s taking most of the snaps and he has been real strong. He’s reading the coverages real well. We should have a very efficient offense."

The Blackbirds have three offensive linemen returning. Hognestad will be at center, McGrail will man one of the tackle spots, and Cardinal will be at one of the guard positions.

"There won’t be a defensive front that will get them rattled," Sapienza said. "They will pick stuff up. We have nice experience in key spots. We have key people to replace. But everybody has really improved."

"Everybody knows what they are doing," Robinson said. "Everybody is stepping up."

"All the pieces"

The Blackbird players are bigger than what is typical for the Voorheesville.

"Size-wise, we’ll be a tough match," Sapienza said. "Sean Fitzmaurice and Jeff Connors are players that are not typical for us. We are not used to having a handful of guys weighing 250 or more."

"We have a lot of big people," McGrail said.

Sapienza feels that this team has all the right ingredients to make for a great season.

"We have all the pieces," he said. "They are all there. It’s just putting it together and staying healthy."

Sapienza has 25 players to work with, which doesn’t give him a lot of depth. He has players learning two or three different positions.

"One thing that I want to do in preseason is be three deep at every spot," Sapienza said. "We only have 25 kids so somebody has to learn to do a couple of things. I’ve had years that I’ve been one deep or two deep so I’ve not had a whole heck a lot of help if someone gets hurt. We have a lot of guys that want to earn playing time."


As the first game of the season approaches, the Blackbirds have gelled as a team.

"We’ve become a family," Hognestad said.

The Blackbirds start the season on Sept. 2 at home against Catholic Central High School. They then travel to Schuylerville the following week.

Voorheesville then hosts division rival Watervliet on Sept. 16 and then travels to Chatham for a Thursday-night game. The Birds host Coxsackie-Athens before wrapping up the regular season with contests at Tamarac, and Canajoharie.

"We want to win every game we play," Robinson said. "There is no reason we shouldn’t win the section."

Class C has been split into three divisions. The Birds share a division with Watervliet, Chatham, Coxsackie, Tamarac and Canajoharie.

"There is a lot of balance," Sapienza said. "No one is head and shoulders above anyone. The schools know each other so you expect it to be tough."

The Birds will try to knock off defending Class C champion Schuylerville and perennial power Cambridge returns to Class C after playing in Class D the past couple of years.

"I like it like that," Sapienza said. "Some years there is a standout team but this makes it more fun. Class C has elevated its programs. I don’t see an easy game on the schedule."

Challenger football

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — As usual in the late summer, the landscape of the Nott Road Athletic Fields was filled with kids playing football.

But the landscape was slightly altered on a beautiful early Friday evening. Instead of Mighty Mites and Junior Midget teams dressed in full pads banging heads on the field, there were kids in wheelchairs and parents or siblings wearing flags.

The Pop Warner Challenger Football League made a stop in Guilderland on Friday. The program, which began in East Greenbush and has garnered national attention, is now thriving in the Capital District. This was the first game in Guilderland. There will be games in Ballston Spa and North Colonie in the coming weeks along with the regular games every week in East Greenbush.

"I love football," said Emilio Genzano whose son Joey and wife Jill played in the game. "My dream is for my kids to play. This is one way that they all can."

Genzano had a big part in bringing the game to Guilderland. He is the president of the Guilderland Pop Warner and he and his family have taken part in the Challenger games for the last three years. Genzano’s oldest son, E.J., plays in the Pop Warner and was the referee for one of the older-aged Challenger games, while his family played.

"I love it," E.J. Genzano said of the Challenger games. "It’s is really helping him. It brings out the whole family and we spend the day together. We are down here four days of the week."

"Open to everybody with disabilities"

The Challenger League is in its fourth year but hasn’t been affiliated with Pop Warner that long. The Genzanos have been involved in the league for three years.

"It’s open to everybody with disabilities," said one of the founders, Tom Hindes. "It’s for the kids to have fun. It’s to get parents to do something with their kids they wouldn’t be able to do. We try to make it a family affair and I think that makes it better."

Hindes is the head of the Capital District Pop Warner Challenger Division.

Players from Ballston Spa, Colonie, and East Greenbush joined players from Guilderland for football on Friday. There were two games going on at the same time — one for older kids and one for those younger than 11. The field was 50 yards long and 20 yards wide. Players had to pull flags off the ball carrier to down them.

Games are played almost every week, depending on the weather.

"We play in nice weather," Jill Genzano said. "Pop Warner lasts longer than we do. We end early. If the weather’s bad, we’ll keep the kids at home. We do what’s best for their health and safety. We don’t go out in the cold and rain. We only did that for ESPN."

The sports network aired a story of the program in February.

But the league is open to kids from anywhere.

"Anyone from any town can play," Hindes said. "This year we have a team in Guilderland, a team from East Greenbush, Ballston Spa, and North Colonie. Last year, we had one team in East Greenbush."

The growth of the league is due to some exposure it received last year.

"It’s because of ESPN," Hindes said. "We went from one team to four and there are at least 100 teams and others being considered all the time. That’s just the ones recognized by Pop Warner. There are other groups that do this."

ESPN went to a Challenger game in East Greenbush last fall and a story on that game aired in February.

ESPN, then, helped send 20 families to the Walt Disney World Resort’s Wide World of Sports in Florida. Disney is the parent company of ESPN.

The Challenger team also had a spot on CBS before the annual Detriot Lions football game on Thanksgiving.

"A field of peace"

"It blows your mind," Hindes said. "It’s great to see kids on the field that love to play football as any other kid on the field. They like doing it, and that is all that matters."

The league is already raising funds for another trip to Disney at the end of the year.

Hindes is happy that all kids have a place on a football field.

"Burke Adams and myself tried to have football before," Hindes said, "and it didn’t work. We decided to take it to Pop Warner and obviously the size of the organization helped. It made a big difference."

Before Friday’s game, Emilio Genzano made a speech, welcoming participants, family, and spectators to the event. He called the gridiron, "A field of peace to bring families together to enjoy the game of football and inspire all involved."

And for two hours, families from different towns mingled and enjoyed the moment. They shared in the one thing they had in common: having a child with disabilities.

"We probably enjoy it more than I think the kids do," Jill Genzano said. "I enjoy being out as a family, playing together, and with a lot of other kids. It’s something to get excited about."

The games, Jill Genzano said, do seem to help Joey a little bit. Joey, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, would normally be found in front of his computer playing a video game.

Joey attends a BOCES classroom at Forts Ferry Elementary School in the North Colonie School District, but he is part of the Guilderland School District.

The games have also helped E.J. Genzano come to terms with his brother’s disability and he has learned a lot from his experiences.

"These kids, people just look at them differently," he said. "They come out here and they are part of something. They’re out here and people see that they have human faces that they are just like us."

"We do it for the kids," Emilio Genzano added. "We are fortunate to have what we have. I think the kids understand that. These people out here have had to learn different responsibilities, and I think E.J. is like that with Joey."

And as long as there is a program out there like the Challenger league, the Genzanos will continue to be strong supporters and promote the league.

"It’s not too late for people to sign up," Jill Genzano said. "People can just come out and watch."

Added E.J., "People should come out and see what it is like."

The Guilderland football team

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland football team hopes some changes and new faces will mesh with some old ways and old timers to bring the success the program is striving for.

Structural changes have been made in the coaching staff and a group of juniors who were successful on the junior varsity team will join a large group of returning players.

"We brought up two long-time junior varsity coaches in Garth Childs and John Winters to varsity," said Guilderland Head Coach Dan Penna. "The j.v. will be run by Jason Usher and Curtis May."

Penna said that all the coaches know the system, but Penna wanted four coaches on the varsity level. Bill Schewe returns as the associate coach for the Dutchmen.

"Four coaches gives the varsity players more specific training at specific positions, like the quarterbacks will get more specific training," Penna said.

The Dutch used a new offense last year and had success, so just minor changes will be made.

"We scored, in our last two games, 80 to 90 points," Penna said. "We will fine tune our running game and expand the passing offense."

Penna has seen good things from the seniors and the newcomers as they work on coming together as a team.

"We have strong juniors that are getting support from a strong group of seniors," the coach said. "All the kids have been in the program for years."

"Foot on the gas the whole time"

The players have been working hard in preparing for the season.

"The practices have been a lot harder than the last couple of years," said senior Greg Barcomb.

The seniors have also been a big part of leading off-season workouts.

"We had a 50-percent increase in the weight room just on the varsity level alone," Penna said. "We had 200 kids that found time to work out last year and this year we had 300. We also had seven-on-seven sessions to work on the passing game."

"We got a lot of guys in the weight room," senior Nick Zanotta said. "We did a lot of out-of-season training."

Penna is forming another leadership council like last year. All the members have not been selected yet, but seniors Zanotta, Kyle Hussey, Kevin Forbes, and Barcomb will be included.

Penna was disappointed in Monday morning’s practice but said the team has shown promise in the first week of pre-season practices.

"I’m taking it one practice at a time," he said. "We didn’t have a great morning. I want the kids to have their foot on the gas the whole time."

Penna hasn’t set any goals for the team, though some of his players have.

"Each year you have specific goals," Penna said. "I feel we have the athletes to compete and this group can establish a competitive tone that we want to establish. I think we have a team that can take the next step. They want to go to the playoffs. They have the mindset that we need to win every game they play.

"This team has the ability," Penna added. "The key is to come together as a team in the next week or so. They all have to buy into the team concept. That is the toughest part, but the truth is this group has the potential to do it."

The varsity players have been working with players at the younger levels and even go to Pop Warner practices to help out there.

"They go down there to help teach," Penna said. "We are thinking about the long-term as well as the short-term."

Joining Forbes, Barcomb, Hussey, and Zanotta as key returners are linemen Matt Glock, Christian Cortes, linebacker Ian DeSol and receiver and defensive back Joe Lima.

Linebacker Pete Stanish returns after being a starter as a sophomore last year. Classmate Paul Booker also saw a lot of time on the field last year.

Junior Drew Smith is a newcomer to the varsity and brings athleticism to the Dutchmen. He was on the varsity basketball team last winter.

"We have a lot of size on the line," Forbes said. "We have a lot of starters back. Over half the kids were underclassmen."

But there are a lot of spots that are open.

"There are a lot of competitive guys out here," Zanotta said. "They are working for spots that are open."

"Everybody is working hard," Forbes added.

The Dutchmen will have a scrimmage at Mohonasen on Saturday, where they will face the host school and Schenectady High School.

Looking for crowds

Guilderland opens the season against Shaker on Sept. 1.

"We are looking forward to the first game," Hussey said. "It’ll be nice to get the pre-season out of the way."

"Shaker was in the final four of the section playoffs," Penna said. "We’ll have our hands full. It’s another strong opener. They graduated some strong players but they have some skilled players coming up. They will be a tough opponent for us. Traditionally, they run a lot of option, but they might mix it up."

Following Shaker, Guilderland will host Troy and then travel to Columbia and Niskayuna. The Niskayuna game will be on a Thursday night instead of Friday.

The Dutchmen return home to take on Saratoga in week five of the season. Guilderland wraps up the regular season with road games against Queensbury and Ithaca, in a out-of-section contest.

The Dutchmen are in a new division with Troy, Shaker, Saratoga, and Queensbury.

"Troy is a perennial power," Penna said. "And two teams were in the playoffs last year — Saratoga and Shaker. And Queensbury was in the playoffs in the A’s last year."

"Section II is tough," Hussey said. "It’s weird we don’t play Colonie or Shen."

The Dutch hope that a new look to the team room on the east side of school will inspire a new attitude. The booster club, parents, and players painted the room and added trim to the lockers to give it a nicer look.

It is all a part of the changes the program is going through to put itself in the right direction.

"The program hasn’t had a lot of success," Barcomb said. "The program hasn’t had a winning season in eight years. We want to make Friday nights a big thing. We want to get some big crowds."

Guilderland Pop Warner

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — Frank Finn has 15 or so years of football experience behind him. And now he sees the future of the sport.

Finn is one of the many volunteer coaches for the Guilderland Pop Warner football league.

Finn coaches the Mighty Mite level — for players ages seven through nine, weighing between 45 and 90 pounds.

"I’m proud of what we do with the kids," Finn said at practice on Wednesday. "We prepare them for playing. This is a learning level, a teaching level. We don’t keep score. The kids learn technique and have fun. We teach technique like tackling and other fundamentals."

That’s the goal for the Pop Warner league at most levels: To teach the game and prepare good players for the older Midget level.

A record number of players have come out to play this fall, said the league’s vice president, Dennis Sheehan.

"We have four flag teams of five-, six-, seven-year olds," he said. "We have a record 52 kids in the flag program. That is twice as many as last year."

The tackle levels have also seen an increase of players. Sheehan said that the Mighty Mite and Junior Pee Wee levels each have about 30 kids. There are about 21 kids on the Midget level.

"That’s a bit of a challenge," Sheehan said. "We get the kids that are not playing school ball and are opting to play with us. But we have a good team. They won the Capital District Super Bowl last year."

Cheer teams

Sheehan said that there is a decline overall in the number of cheerleaders. However, there are more younger cheerleaders and there will be, for the first time, cheerleaders for the flag football teams.

"That’s pretty neat," Sheehan said. "Other associations have it. There are parents coaching them. The results have been a pleasant surprise for what they have done. There are 20 per group."

"I believe most teams have 25 to 29 girls," said Debbie Hilson, who is the head coach of the Junior Midget cheerleading team. "We have 28 girls, which is lower this year. The past couple of years, the league mark has been set at 35."

Hilson said that some girls are cheering on all-star teams instead of Pop Warner and the league will not allow for any crossover. Also, a lot of the older girls are trying out for the high-school teams.

The cheer teams have been successful.

"Historically, the cheer teams do very well at the state and regional meets," Sheehan said. "We had four teams qualify for regionals last year. We produce pretty good high school cheerleaders."

The Guilderland High School cheer team is one of the top squads in the country and won its class at a national meet last winter.

Enthusiastic coaches

Sheehan said that a lot of kids come back because of the coaching.

"What I’m pleased about is that we have a very enthusiastic group of coaches," he said. "We get some turnover, because they have moved through the system and then they leave. The Mighty Mites are a lot of first- and second-year coaches. They have been really terrific and have a great rapport with the kids."

Finn played football for 15 years through many different levels. The highest level he played was semi-professional. He was at that level for three years.

Sheehan said that new board members have brought some fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the league. But one tradition that remains — and is strong — is Family Fun Night.

This year, the event will be held on Aug. 26t. There will be two or three scrimmages going on and there will be a Bouncy Bounce and a rock-climbing wall.

"It will be a great night," Sheehan said. "We want to get a lot of people here."

There will also be giveaways at this year’s event, including a drawing for New York Giants season tickets and two tickets to a University of Notre Dame game.

Finn and Hilson are examples of what Pop Warner is all about. They give up their time to help teach and share with kids something they love.

Finn leaves his job as a commercial manager at Adirondack Tire and comes to practice for two-and-a-half hours, four nights a week during the fall. There are also practices on Saturdays and games are on Sundays.

Finn and Hilson are emblematic of the growth and the stability of the program.

"It’s nice to see a lot of the same kids back," Finn said.

Also another thread in the fabric of the Pop Warner League is forced by the younger coaches who come from the high school to help out with practices.

"Junior coaches do a lot of the work," Hilson said. "We have a better ratio of adults to children. We are way above what Pop Warner requires. This program wouldn’t be where it is without the junior coaches."

With all the help that Finn gets, he is more accessible.

"It makes it a little easier to mingle around," Finn said. "I can give better attention and more direct contact with parents and coaches involved. It’s a win-win for everybody."

And that involvement is a big reason for the success of the Pop Warner program in Guilderland.

"The program is growing," Sheehan said. "We have more football players than ever before. Everyone sees how good a program this is. Kids had fun with it and they bring their friends this year. For a program like this, that is everything. This program is structured for kids to learn."

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