WEEK 7: Ansonia (5-0) vs. Derby (2-3) at Oxford, Friday, 7 p.m.
ANSONIA — Oct. 19 is the third weekend in the month.
In this city of nearly 20,000 it can only mean it’s time for the annual Ansonia vs. Derby high school football game.
But after a century of games, this one is being played in Oxford on that high’s school artificial turf.
Derby can’t host the game because its Ryan Sports Complex is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation that could make it the envy of most high schools. So they’ve arranged to play all their home games in Oxford.
Ansonia could host it. And many fans and city officials are wondering why the 95th game — which Ansonia has dominated in recent years and holds a 58-28-8 line — is not being played at Nolan Field.
“They’re breaking a tradition,” said Julie Lynch, a frequent Ansonia football spectator.
“As far as Ansonia is concerned, we respect the home team’s decision,” said Tom Brockett, Ansonia High’s football coach and athletic director. “I feel bad that Derby’s kids have been without their own field for the past two years.”
“I’m all in favor of Ansonia-Derby being played in Ansonia this year,” said Tom Lionetti, a Derbyite. “Why do we have to drive all the way to Oxford? Don’t tell me its home field advantage. We all know that’s not going to change the outcome.”
While Derby Mayor Richard Dzieken leaves the decision up to his superintendent and atheltic director, Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti and Greg Martin, Cassetti’s director of constituent services would love to see the tradition continued with the game at Nolan Field.
“Why not play this game in the daylight on Saturday at Nolan Field?” Martin said.
Flashback to the 1960s through the 1980s and those games were the place to be. Anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 people would fill the stands, line the hills and congregate around the field.
Then came Friday night football and the numbers began to diminish. Martin and others seem to think returning the game to daylight hours might be the novelty needed to bring fans back.
“I’d be willing to let them play the next two games in Derby if they moved this year’s game here,” Cassetti said. “But that’s not my decision.”
“The decision to change fields is one that would be made by our Athletic Director (Matt Bradshaw) in concert with the Head Coach (George French) and Superintendent’s (Matthew Conway’s) office,” said Jim Gildea, chairman of Derby’s board of education and co-chairman of the Ansonia-Derby School Regionalization Study committee..
“I would not personally favor a field change unless there was a commitment to allow the game to be played in Derby for two consecutive years to ensure that no one school had a home field advantage over the course of the rivalry,” Gildea said.
“This would address not only the fairness issue but also the fact that there are gate receipts involved and the Derby-Ansonia game generates a fair amount of revenue that is used to assist the athletic program,” he said.
“That’s a fair trade off,” said John Machowski Sr. who was watching Ansonia whip Watertown with Brian Laskey and 100 or so others on Oct. 4.
“I’d rather see it played here,” said Laskey, a Naugatuck High School grad-turned Ansonia Charger fan.
So would Jeff “Sponge” Barilovich, who played in several of the hard fought games before graduating in 1971 from Ansonia High,
“If it was in Derby we’d play 10:30 in the morning. If it was here it’d be 1 p.m. Always on the third Saturday in October,” Barilovich said. “It’d be just in time for Indian Summer. And we’d have up to 9,000 people watching.”
Times have changed, however. Back then there might be one or two Saturday afternoon college games on TV. Now the games start at 11:30 a.m. and run through 1 a.m. the following morning with Division I, II and III contests filling dozens of sports and network channels.”
Jim Gregorio and Joe Cannata also would like to see the game played here they said , as they watched Ansonia Football up-and-comer Chicago Rivers II, a sophomore running back, dance, weave and straight arm his way through Watertown defenders as he chewed up all 77 yards on a drive that ends with his scoring the touchdown and two point conversion.
That marked Ansonia’s final scores in a 49-7 victory.
“Oxford’s artificial turf is better for Ansonia,” Cannata said;. “They’ve got a shifty, fast team.”
And if it was in the daylight on a Saturday?
“You’d see a lot more senior citizens watching the game.”