The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

A Historical Perspective of the Hackley – Riverdale Football Rivalry

Since the creation of Hackley, the school’s football team has been locked in a rivalry with Riverdale. The rivalry has been marked by incredible coaches, players, and winning streaks. Even with such an illustrious and unique past, many students and families at both Hackley and Riverdale would be shocked by the history behind the matchup. 

Out of Hackley’s 26 students in 1900, 13 of them joined coach and player Walter B. Gage on the gridiron to compete against Riverdale for the first time. Ever since then, the Hackley-Riverdale game has been circled by alumni and fans alike. One example was the Hackley team of 1939 who had failed to win a game or even score all season heading into their matchup with Riverdale. Both teams knew the bragging rights that were on the line and were locked in a close game with Riverdale leading 14-12 late in the fourth quarter. Hackley’s hero revealed himself as Jack Pagan recovered a fumble and ran 50 yards for the game-winning touchdown. 

Effort and grit have always been at the heart of the rivalry as evidenced by the 1947 game. Once again, Hackley had been written off as Riverdale had a much stronger team that season. However, Hackley held a 19-14 lead with the clock winding down. Talented Riverdale running back Jim Ripperger barreled his way to the edge of the Hackley endzone. Hackley spectator and writer Charles T. Bates ‘49 wrote about the madness in the Hackley Review. 

“Three times Ripperger plunged into the middle of the Hackley line; three times the Hackley line held firm, and when time expired, Hackley had gained an upset victory”. 

Each game has its own jaw-dropping moment or incredible player but the greatest stretch of game had to come during the 1960’s. In 1963, both teams entered the game with undefeated seasons and the rivalry tied 20 wins to 20 wins. 

Both teams were led by two incredible players, Riverdale’s Calvin Hill and Hackley’s James C. Reiley. 

With Hackley losing 20-14, they decided to attempt a trick play that fooled the Riverdale defense. Hackley wide receiver Rick Spooner was the obvious target of the play. Spooner had insane speed, running a 9.7-second 100-yard dash in the Ivy Prep Track and Field championship at Hofstra University according to the New York Times. Spooner caught the defense off guard and evaded a defender on the way to the endzone to tie the game.   

To truly understand the quality of these players, you have to look at their careers after the Riverdale-Hackley rivalry. 

Calvin Hill grew up in Maryland but was awarded a scholarship to attend Riverdale where he was introduced to football. Hill quickly became Riverdale’s starting quarterback and a talent in the Ivy League. After high school, Hill attended Yale University where he had a stellar collegiate career. This performance led Hill to be drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys where he became one of the best running backs in Cowboys history. Calvin Hill finished his NFL career with a Super Bowl victory, two NFC titles, four Pro Bowls, an NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and team records in receptions by a running back and rushing yards in a season.  

Like many Hackley great football players, James C. Reiley was born in Yonkers, New York. After excelling at Hackley all four years, Reiley attended the prestigious Notre Dame University at the peak of their football success. Reiley was a four-year starter who earned first-team All-American honors as an offensive lineman before declaring for the NFL draft. In the third round of the 1970 draft, the Bills selected Reiley who’d start 27 consecutive games for them. Unfortunately, James C. Reiley passed away in 1994 at 46 years old. As a result of his illustrious career and sad passing, Hackley posthumously retired his number 46 jersey. 

Not only were the players outstanding but the coaches were as well. Frank Bertino transformed the Riverdale football program from lackluster to the top of the Ivy League. When Bertino became coach in 1944, Riverdale hadn’t won a game in two years. Bertino flipped the script and won 247 of his 300 career games. The team entered its prime from 1958-1965 when they had a 51-game unbeaten streak. Calvin Hill commented on Coach Bertino’s philosophy in an interview with The New York Times. “Coach Bertino taught me that there was no shortcut to work; he teaches about life,”  When everything was all said and done, Bertino had 17 undefeated seasons and 17 Ivy League Prep Championships to his name. Riverdale annually hands out the Frank Bertino Award to an athlete who has the same characteristics of leadership, character, and sportsmanship. Currently, Frank Bertino sits seventh in the list of All Time New York High School Football Wins.

Like Bertino, Hackley had its own legendary coach in Robert Pickert. Pickert was a member of the Hackley community for 45 years, working as a science teacher, head football coach, and finally athletic director. Hackley acknowledged his service to the Hilltop with a commemorative award given out to a coach who has demonstrated coaching excellence on the field. Pickert is one of only five faculty members who have been honored with a gargoyle. Coach Pickert also won the New York Jets High School Coach of the Week award in 2008. This award is given to a coach who instills the love of the game and proper morals into his players. 

On the sidelines, Coach Pickert excelled with an impressive 210 wins and a winning percentage of 64% over his 38 seasons as varsity head coach. Currently, he ranks 182nd for coaches in All Time New York High School Football Wins. Upon his retirement in 2011, he was elected to the Ivy Preparatory League Hall of Fame. To understand the legacy of Coach Pickert, all you have to do is go watch a game on the field named after him and the scoreboard also named after him. 

Senior Hackley captain Matthew Kearns made it known how important the rivalry is to him. 

“It’s one of the longest-lasting rivalries in New York which makes it really historic. It’s always a really competitive game against Riverdale and super meaningful for the team.” 

Kearns also wanted to make it apparent that Hackley currently leads the rivalry in head-to-head victories. 

Hackley’s football team failed to beat Riverdale this season but ended up winning the MIFL Championship over Horace Mann in a thrilling contest with a score of 37-28. As both teams prepare over the off-season, fans on either side will be awaiting the big game next fall.

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