One thing that makes high school sports so appealing is — unlike professional teams or even colleges — they cannot control the ebb and flow of talent that walks through the halls on a yearly basis.
Any athletic program that revels in success year after year seems to have a potent combination of talent and adaptable coaching staffs. While that can last for several seasons, a decade or more of dominance is truly unprecedented.
Clyde-Savannah High School experienced that improbable decade of success in multiple sports, culminating in an epic 1993 calendar year that saw two boys teams bring home state championships.
In the winter of 1992-93, head coach Kevin Sharp led the likes of Wesley Smith, Tim Darnell, Allen Johnson, Jason Williams and others to the Golden Eagles’ first basketball state title, culminating in a 76-65 win over Tuckahoe in the title game.
Roughly seven months later, the C-S football team, which had been dominating the region for the previous decade, finally got a shot at New York’s first football state championship against the very same school they defeated seven months earlier on the court: Tuckahoe.
In the years leading up to the spring of 1993, the basketball team produced subtle hints that a state championship might one day be in the offing.
The 1983 Golden Eagles captured their first sectional hoops crown since 1959, and the first since Clyde and Savannah had merged. After that Class B title, the team went on to win three straight B crowns from 1986-88. However, a state title escaped them.
In 1991, a No. 5-seeded Clyde-Savannah team with a 9-11 record entering the sectional tournament managed to pull off a colossal upset over No. 2-seed Kendall, 71-70, in the Class C final. Again, they couldn’t make it to the state tournament.
Mark Dunn, who had led the Golden Eagles in years prior, moved to administration and could no longer coach. Sharp, who had been on the football coaching staff for seven or eight years, was asked to become head coach for the 1992-93 season due to his familiarity with the program and its players.
Even before he agreed to become the head coach, star player Wesley Smith knew something memorable might be in the works.
“I could tell the season was going to be special from the summer league in Canandaigua,” Smith said. “I could tell then that we were going to have a pretty good team … Things came together because we played some schools that were a little bit out of our league and we were beating them.
“I wanted to win … I wanted to go undefeated, like Mynderse (in 1991-92). I wanted to do that.”
Tim Darnell, now boys basketball coach at Waterloo High School, was a senior heading into the ’92-93 campaign. Darnell felt the full potential of the season was there for all to see after the first game against Marion, which was the talk of Wayne County before the game and, like the Golden Eagles, would make it to the state final four (in Class C) later that season.
“I think after that first game, a lot of us felt we could have a special team,” Darnell began. “We played Marion in that first game of the year. Marion was picked to win Wayne County. We weren’t a top pick, and they came to our gym and we throttled them by like, 20. We played lights-out, and they had some really good players.
“We had two teams from Wayne County go to Glens Falls (for the state final four) that year, which is pretty much unheard of.”
After that first game, the Golden Eagles picked up steam. With a couple of hard-fought wins against Palmyra-Macedon mixed in, Sharp guided the Golden Eagles to an 18-0 record and the No. 1 seed in the Class DDD sectional tournament.
“That team was a coach’s dream,” Sharp said. “They wanted to get better … they trusted their teammates so much.
“I can never forget one time we were practicing, and it wasn’t a good practice, and (the coaches) put them on the line to run. They just weren’t pushing themselves, and Kevin DiSanto spoke up and said, ‘Guys, you want it to be like last year? Let’s just do what we have to do.’ That was just cool to see the kids being able to lead each other as well.”
After dispensing York 74-58 in the Section V quarterfinals and a talented Red Jacket team, 69-54, in the semifinals, the Golden Eagles faced their toughest challenge of the season in the final: fellow unbeaten Keshequa.
“Keshequa had a 6-6 center (that) was a handful,” Sharp remembered, “and then they had a shooter, J.J. Garwood, who is now the coach for Northstar Christian, and they gave us everything we could handle.”
“We didn’t have a lot of size, but our inside players were tremendous athletes,” Darnell said. “They could pretty much do anything. (Keshequa) was extremely well-coached, they had talent, they were tough and hard-nosed. That may have been the toughest game we had throughout the whole (season), to tell you the truth.”
Clyde-Savannah squeezed past Keshequa by 2 points.
Following that contest, the Golden Eagles’ average margin of victory through the rest of the postseason was 11 points.
The game everyone wanted to see arrived in the state semifinals, a matchup against season-long No. 1 Hamilton and its 6-foot-10 center, Adonal Foyle; Foyle spent 13 seasons in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies.
Not many people gave Clyde-Savannah a chance, and the players took notice.
“We felt a little bit disrespected going into that game,” Darnell said. “Most people gave us no chance of winning that game because Hamilton had (Foyle). We got to the gym and the Hamilton fans had a big sign they hung up in the Glens Falls Civic Center that said, ‘Clyde Who?’ We saw that warming up, and our fans saw that.”
The Golden Eagles proceeded to pummel Hamilton. Smith, Darnell, freshman Jason Williams, Allen Johnson, Kevin DiSanto; every single player was firing on all cylinders individually and collectively, and the coaching staff had prepared a perfect game plan. Clyde-Savannah rendered Hamilton’s future NBA center effectively useless, and the final score of 88-72 doesn’t indicate how lopsided the game was.
“It was pretty cool,” Sharp said, the smile creasing his face seemingly visible through the telephone. “We knew that they knew that we were a pressing-running team, so we assumed they worked on that all week in practice. We didn’t start the game out in the press. We wanted to surprise them at a certain time.”
With the Golden Eagles nursing an early 14-13 advantage, assistant coach Ken DiSanto Jr. tugged at Sharp’s leg on the sideline and said, “It might be time to put the press on.”
Like baiting a fish to bite a lure, the Golden Eagles lulled Hamilton in the first few minutes. And once C-S turned on its patented, hard-running press, Hamilton had no clue what hit them.
“We scored the next 7 points,” Sharp said. “It sort of put the game out of reach from that point on.”
“It was a bad matchup (for Hamilton),” Darnell remembered. “We had too much athleticism, we had too much quickness, we had too much speed, and we pretty much neutralized the big guy.”
After the game, a Clyde-Savannah parent collected Hamilton’s ‘Clyde Who?’ sign. Rather than tearing it to shreds or throwing it away, the sign was kept — and it even made an appearance at the postseason awards banquet.
Tuckahoe awaited in the championship game, and the Golden Eagles continued to fire on all cylinders, building 16-point leads on three occasions in a 76-65 triumph. C-S shredded Tuckahoe’s full-court pressure and led 26-12 after making 11 of their 17 field goal attempts in the opening quarter.
“They were the quickest team we’ve played,” Tuckahoe coach Marshall Reiff said after the game. “We were kind of in a daze.”
Following the first basketball state championship in school history, the players and coaches enjoyed a summer break before many of them swapped basketball shoes for football cleats and charged into the fall of 1993, ready to chase down gridiron glory now that New York was hosting its first state tournament in the sport.
“A bunch of guys that played basketball just rolled it along (into the football season),” Smith said.
The Golden Eagles’ football supremacy had begun many years earlier, and the football team captured its first sectional title in 1983 under legendary head coach Nick DerCola. Though DerCola retired in 1984, the roar of the Golden Eagles had just begun.
From 1983-93 Clyde-Savannah football won sectional titles in every year but ’91. From ’83-87, they reigned as Class C champion. In 1988 they took a visit to Class B and won that title before returning to C and winning back-to-back titles in ’89 and ’90. In 1992, the Golden Eagles settled into Class D, winning two consecutive titles.
They wound up capturing 10 sectional titles in 11 seasons. Included in that epic run was a 31-game win streak that ended in 1988. It remains the sixth-longest win streak in Section V history.
In 1993, for the first time, the Golden Eagles had a chance to prove they were truly the best of the best statewide.
“The team in ’92 was probably every bit as good as the team that won it in ’93,” noted Sharp, an assistant on head coach Ron Vitticore’s staff. “They just didn’t have the opportunity to win it. ... Expectations (for 1993) were very high. You had Wesley Smith coming back, you had Tysean Harris coming back, an offensive and defensive line that was phenomenal.”
“There was extra motivation, especially playing in the Carrier Dome and everything like that,” Smith said about the ’93 football season. “That was a huge experience.”
The offensive line, which was coached by John Pezzulo — he also oversaw the defense — allowed quarterback Jason McCray to get the ball to Smith at the wideout position and provided Harris with multiple running lanes to charge into the defensive backfield.
The Golden Eagles cruised through most of the regular season, although there was a hiccup: a loss to Midlakes that allowed C-S to refocus heading into its first state tournament.
“Everybody had on our minds that we could have been the first team to win a state championship in football,” Sharp said. “It was extra motivation for some of the guys who were on the football team because they got (the chance) to go back-to-back state champions in basketball and football. Two state championships in a calendar year; that’s extra motivation right there.”
The first state tournament game for Clyde-Savannah was against Frewsburg of Section VI. Heading into the game, star running back Harris had run for 1,318 yards and 21 touchdowns, wide receiver Smith had 15 receptions for 410 yards and seven touchdowns, and quarterback McCray had thrown for 710 yards and 14 touchdowns. That trio also had combined for more than 110 tackles.
The Golden Eagles swatted Frewsburg, 34-7.
“We always just put it together,” Smith remembered. “(I) never remember being nervous about a game. Never. I always felt that we knew we were going to win.”
Moving on to the semifinals, C-S faced Section IV champions Lansing, which received a first-round bye. Like every other team, Lansing provided little worry for the soaring Golden Eagles, who won comfortably 20-7.
Oddly enough, that entire game is available to watch on YouTube.
“I’ve watched it 100 times,” Smith said with a laugh.
Clyde-Savannah knew quite a bit about its championship game opponent — and Tuckahoe was still stinging from the basketball defeat it suffered in March of that year.
“A lot of people don’t know, but before that game (our team) went out onto the (Carrier Dome) field,” Smith said. “We wanted to go out and walk on the field before anybody was there. We walked out at the same time that (Tuckahoe) did, and there was a little bit of an altercation going on. We got into it a little bit. They were yelling, ‘This isn’t basketball!’ I think it really motivated us, that we had to beat this team, just to show them.”
Tuckahoe was correct. It wasn’t basketball. It was football, and the Golden Eagles made the state hoops final look like a nail-biter — although Smith remembers the very early stages of the game not starting out well.
“They started out dominating us,” Smith said. “They were running the ball like crazy. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be a tough game.’”
Clyde-Savannah dominated to the tune of 40-0.
Harris etched himself into the school and Section V record books. In his four varsity seasons, he scored 444 points, piled up 74 touchdowns, and ran for 4,089 yards. The first two numbers rank fifth in Section V history, while his yardage total stands 13th.
Clyde-Savannah’s trophy case already was packed with sectional football and basketball trophies. In 1993, they had to make room for not one but two pieces of state hardware — and, in the process, became the envy of every school in New York.
Statistics in a 1993 article from The Buffalo News contributed to this story.