Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Big Game

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

In the fall of 1920, Elmira Free Academy principal Francis Parker traveled to Binghamton for the annual EFA-Binghamton football game. He would have been better off staying home. Binghamton trounced EFA 70 to 0. When he got back to Elmira, Parker told his fellow school officials “I don’t ever want us to be humiliated on the football field like that again.”

Of course, to make that happen, he was going to need to change a few things. For one, the team was going to need the best coach he could find and that was Arthur Hirst. Hirst had been coaching the Binghamton team for a few years by then, but Parker was able to tempt him away by offering him actual money. Up until that point, all of Elmira’s football coaches had been strictly volunteer. Hirst knew what he was doing and for the next 20 years, he managed to make EFA one of the best teams around.  From 1935 to 1937, they lost to no one and had five undefeated seasons over all under his leadership.

Coach Arthur Hirst

Right away Hirst whipped them into shape, but there was one team which always gave them trouble. Their dreaded rival: Binghamton.

In 1921, they faced Binghamton and lost, 49 to 0. In 1923, they lost again, 13 to 10. In 1924, they didn’t even manage to score a single point, losing 7 to 0. In 1925, they almost managed to win, almost, tying 6-6 with Binghamton in control of the ball. In 1926, Binghamton was their lone defeat at 14 to 13. Same in 1927, when they lost 9 to 0.

Naturally, when Elmira faced off against Binghamton on October 27, 1928, tensions were running high. By that point, Elmira had already gone up against and beaten Athens, Corning, and Buffalo, and they were hoping to continue their winning streak. The game had been originally scheduled at Binghamton, but a problem with their field meant that they’d be playing in Elmira. The annual Elmira-Binghamton game always drew the largest crowd, and there were over 6,000 people in the stands at the Harper Street Athletic Field. 

Elmira High School football team, 1928 season
Elmira came on strong in the first quarter. They scored six points in a savage fight in front of Binghamton’s goal posts. Then half-back Don Greene got the ball. As a freshman three years earlier, he’d tried and failed to make the team. Coach Hirst thought he just wasn’t football material, but boy was he wrong. Don got the ball and he ran, and he ran, for an 81-yard touchdown that ended the quarter with Elmira on top 13-0. 

The second quarter was brutal. Neither team managed to score, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. Team Captain George Vetter was injured in a tackle and had to sit out the rest of the game. Halftime came as a relief for everyone.
Elmira started off the third quarter right. Don Greene got the ball in the first play and ran his second touchdown, bumping the score to 19-0. It was the first time since 1913 that Elmira managed to get that many points over Binghamton. Unfortunately, Binghamton was quick to even the score, managing a touchdown of their own towards the end of the quarter. 

At the start of the fourth quarter, the score was 19-7 in Elmira’s favor. Binghamton soon scored a second touchdown. Elmira fans watched with baited breath as it looked like Binghamton was going to score a third and tie the game, but Elmira’s defense was made of stronger stuff. Elmira regained control of the ball just before the end of the quarter and Don Greene scored his third and final touchdown for the game, ending it 27-13. It was Elmira’s first victory against Binghamton since 1922.

Cartoon of the game from the Elmira Star-Gazette, October 29, 1928

After Binghamton, the season was smooth sailing. Elmira was undefeated for the 1928 season and went on to win the State Championship. Binghamton remained Elmira’s main rival until the district split into the North and Central High Schools and Elmira’s own inter-city rivalry heated up.

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