This 1937 front page of The Watchman says it all.
By Michael Lewis
At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 5, my spirit and my heart will be in Center Moriches, N.Y.
Unfortunately, my body and mind won’t be there.
A pair of boys soccer teams teams whose battles go back generations and almost a century will take to the field one more time at Center Moriches High School.
That’s when the Mattituck and Center Moriches squads will clash in a Suffolk County League V game. The host Red Devils (6-0-0, 7-1-0) need to win to help it secure the league title while the visiting Tuckers must draw or win to secure a Class B playoff spot.
Unfortunately, as I said, I won’t be at the encounter, an event that has just about become an annual ritual for me since 2012.
Since I have not yet received a vaccination shot, I don’t want to take a chance of contracting COVID-19 or if for some reason I was asymptomatic that I would unwittingly give it to someone else.
In these days of the information age and misinformation on the internet, it is easy to throw out ridiculous claims. People seems to believe anything, but Center Moriches-Mattituck has a history, a story that goes back almost a century.
They met for the first time in 1936 – a 1-1 non-league result – and have been meeting every year, sometimes twice and even three times, if a Suffolk County title was on the line.
The next year they clashed for the first time in a game that meant something.
No other soccer rivalry goes back almost 85 years, which still resonates today.
On Nov. 12, 1937, Mattituck defeated Center Moriches, 1-0, at Eastport High School to capture the Suffolk County Interscholastic soccer title. It was the first year the Tuckers fielded a competitive team, directed by the legendary coach Robert Muir, for whom the school’s athletic fields are named. Center Moriches was guided by the legendary Howie Heckman.
According to the Long Island Traveler newspaper, those two schools “put up one of the hardest-fought games ever to be witnessed in the county.”
How big was the accomplishment on the East End? It was the top story in the Nov. 18, 1937 edition of The Watchman.
The headline read:
M.H.S. Wins Suffolk
Mattituck left wing Lucien Repczynski scored the lone goal into the center of the net late in the 12-minute first quarter.
According to the Traveler, Center Moriches had difficulties penetrating the goal area due to defenders named Danowski and Bialeski (no first names were given in the story). Goalkeeper Eddie Jazombek made only one save.
“A large crowd and bands from both schools gave the necessary color to the playoff contest,” the Traveler reported.
So whatever passion there was then has been brought forward for more than eight decades.
How appropriate that it was hotly contested because many Center Moriches-Mattituck confrontations seem to be that way in the modern era.
“They always play us hard,” former Mattituck goalkeeper Steve Ostrowski told me 2013. “You know it’s going to be a one-goal game. You know it’s not going to be a soccer game.
“When we play Center Moriches, it turns into like this weird form, whatever goes.”
Regardless of where the schools are ranked, there will always be a rivalry.
“I don’t care if Mattituck or Center Moriches is a fourth- or fifth-place team or the first- or second-place team,” Center Moriches head coach Chris O’Brien told this writer years ago. “It’s always a big game because it’s a rivalry game. We haven’t beaten them in the county playoffs in three years. The last time we did was ’09 and we wound up winning the whole thing. We won the state championship that year. It would be nice to get back there with this group.
“But you’ve got a lot of steps before that. You’ve got to get into the playoffs first. You’ve got to play well enough during the season and they’ve got to play well in the playoffs before you see them. And of course, you’ve got to finish the deal. Until somebody takes the championship away from them, they’re still the champs.”
In the 2012 Suffolk County Class B final, for example, Mattituck, despite playing a man down and after right back Walter Jacob was red-carded, overcame its rivals, 4-2.
“It’s something that Mattituck soccer has been based on,” former Mattituck coach Mat Litchhult said a few years ago. “That rivalry just feeds soccer in the East End. It used to be Mattituck, Southold and Center Moriches when I was growing up. That’s kind of died down a little bit. A lot of the guys know each other on the North Fork. We’re not in the same league, we’re not in the same classification anymore. Center’s always been there, always in our league, always in our class, so it was always some little extra juice to the match.”
When the teams were placed in different leagues, threatening the rivalry several years ago, the coaches scheduled a non-league game to keep the flames going.
“Playing Center Moriches is a must and is the best barometer for our progress from last year to this year,” former Mattituck head coach Will Hayes said. “Preserving the rivalry is nice too, given the history.”
Red Devils head coach Chris O’Brien knows something about North Fork soccer rivalries as a player for Southold High School, some 10 miles from Mattituck on the North Fork, in the late seventies and early eighties. He called Center Moriches-Mattituck “one of the great rivalries in Long Island high school sports.”
“Rivalries are a big part of the high school experience. Not having Mattituck and Center Moriches in the same league is something that the present teams won’t get to experience.”
Judging the team’s forms and records this season, Center Moriches is favored in Monday’s confrontation. Due to the COVID-18 pandemic, there will be only one game between the rivals this year. Then again, one is better than none.
If there is one thing I have learned from this derby, it is to expect the unexpected.
Wish I could be there to be report about it and be entertained again.
Guess I will have to wait until the fall to take in this classic confrontation.
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