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Remembering the first year of the Long Island Championships

To celebrate 2016 being the 25th year of the Long Island Championships in football, Newsday's Gregg Sarra picked the top 25 moments. We are able to dig up video for 22 of them. Credit: Newsday / Staff

Joe Knoll remembers the pomp. “There was a lot of fanfare. It was crazy and it was very exciting,” said Knoll, who coached Lynbrook to a 19-7 victory over Islip in the very first Long Island Championships football game on Thursday, Dec. 3, 1992.

Jamie Lynch remembers the circumstance. “Being from Suffolk, Nassau was such a foreign place to us,’’ said Lynch, who quarterbacked Islip. “They could’ve been from Oklahoma as far as we were concerned. It was all so new.”

Tom Flatley remembers the wind. “I think it was the coldest football game ever played at Hofstra’s stadium. The wind was so bad, it blew a punt snap sideways,” said Flatley, who coached Garden City against Bellport in the final game of the first LIC weekend, on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Joe Cipp remembers the win. “They were the Rutgers Cup champs — it had already been announced. Jim McGowan ran for our only touchdown, and he wasn’t really a runner. The old-school thinking was that Nassau had better teams. This was a chance to see who was better and the rivalry [between the counties] was instantaneous,” said Cipp, who coached Bellport to an 8-6 victory that ended the Trojans’ winning streak at 30 games.

As the 25th Long Island Championships are being contested this Thanksgiving weekend at Hofstra and Stony Brook, participants in the first ones — all of which were played at Hofstra the week after the holiday — reflected on being part of Long Island sports history.

There is nothing bigger on the high school sports calendar each year than the event known simply by its initials — L-I-C. Initially, however, there was some mystery to go along with the history.

“I did not think it was going to be so big. We were used to playing nine games, then 10. Then the LIC made it 11. Now it’s up to 12,” said Flatley, who retired as Garden City coach after the 2014 season. “Nobody knew how well it would go over.”

Turns out it was a big hit on all levels. The players loved it. The coaches embraced it. The media covered it in a big way. Attendance was excellent. And the LIC definitely created a buzz.

“Just the thought that we’d be playing a team from Suffolk County for the first time made the kids ecstatic; their enthusiasm was through the roof,” said Knoll, currently the Oyster Bay coach. “We had to temper it a lot in practice so they could focus on the game and not all the fanfare.”

Lynch, who won the Hansen Award that year as the top player in Suffolk, recalled, “It was a big deal to be going to play on the [artificial] turf. You didn’t have turf on any of the high school fields. It was the greatest thing in the world. We had never played at a college venue. I remember taking the bus to Hofstra to practice. We put on our turf shoes and ran around like a bunch of 8-year-olds.”

Nassau schools had been playing their county finals at Hofstra for years, so some of them were familiar with the turf and playing under the lights. But it was a brave new world for the Suffolk schools, so it was arranged for each of them to have one evening practice at Hofstra. The players’ eyes may have lit up, but there were some logistical issues.

“They had the tree lighting across the street [at the old EAB building] and it was difficult to get there because of traffic. That was a long day,” said Cipp, who retired as Bellport coach after the 2011 season. “We had to bus the kids in, practice and bus them out and sit in traffic. But if we didn’t get under the lights, we wouldn’t have been prepared. I think we got home 1 or 2 in the morning.”

Game day, despite the blustery, frigid conditions of early December, provided chills of another sort. “Getting introduced to the crowd. Having your name announced on the loudspeaker before the game. Being on TV was a huge thing. There weren’t many games broadcast back then,” Lynch said.

And even though Lynch said “it wasn’t my best game,” the outcome didn’t dim his memory of being part of the first LIC. “When I look back, I think of the experience more than the loss in the game,’’ he said. “It was very special.”

Lynch has experienced the game on another level and seen its growth and popularity up close. He just completed his 11th season as Islip’s head football coach and won the 2007 Long Island Class III championship. “It’s a bigger deal now. When you get to the LIC, the whole community turns out,” he said. “When we won it, we had a firetruck escort back to town. It has more bite than when it first started.”

Flatley agreed. “I don’t think too many coaches in Nassau County paid too much attention to what was going on in Suffolk the way they do now,” he said. “Some Nassau coaches are looking at Suffolk game films by Week 7.”

Cipp remembers large crowds in 1992 — though not as big as the typical crowds today — and is pleased that two of the games now are played in Suffolk at Stony Brook each year.

“We agreed to play all the games there at first because Stony Brook’s field was probably worse than Sachem’s field,” he said. “We decided to do what Nassau wanted to get this thing started. Everything evolves. It was big right away, but I don’t think any of the kids thought it would be as big as it is now.”

Neither did many coaches. “The LIC has taken on a life of its own. We talk about it. We keep records. It’s fantastic to play a team from Suffolk County each season,” Knoll said. “Looking back on the first one, it seems like just yesterday. But it’s a great memory.”

THE FIRST LONG ISLAND CHAMPIONSHIPS

Class III: Thursday, Dec. 3, 1992 at Hofstra

Lynbrook 19, Islip 7. Anthony Picone rushed for 145 yards, including a 2-yard run which tied the game in the first quarter, as the Owls won the first-ever Long Island Championship football game. Lynbrook won its 21st consecutive game by rallying from a 7-0 deficit behind its powerful offensive line and recovering a key fumble by Islip that ended a potential scoring drive. Brian Barlitz carried 18 times for 122 yards and the Buccaneers’ only touchdown.

Class IV: Friday, Dec. 4, 1992 at Hofstra

Island Trees 8, Mt. Sinai 0. Joe Kaiser’s 1-run run on a quarterback sneak and his pass to Phil Pierro for the two-point conversion on a fake-kick gave the Bulldogs an overtime victory. Kaiser had run nine yards to the 1 on the first play in OT. Island Trees then made a dramatic goal-line stand on the Mustangs’ next possession, stopping them three times from inside the 1. Linebackers Bill Spoering and Larry Babino combined for the game-ending tackle.

Class I: Saturday, Dec. 5, 1992 at Hofstra

Connetquot 27, Farmingdale 0. Chad Bosch rushed for 131 yards, despite suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter, to lead the Thunderbirds. The 5-8, 155-pound senior went over 2,000 yards for the season in the third quarter, and later scored on a 14-yard run to make it 20-0. Brian Seymour scored on a 1-yard run, Jake Poffenbarger ran it in from 16 yards out and Jim Melchiona had an 11-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter.

Class II: Saturday, Dec. 4, 1992 at Hofstra

Bellport 8, Garden City 6. On a frigid day with swirling winds, Bellport ended Garden City’s 30-game winning streak. The Clippers registered a safety when GC recovered a wind-blown punt snap in its own end zone. Later in the first quarter, after Alex Rosario’s interception, quarterback Jim McGowan scored on a 25-yard run. The Trojans’ Matt Fischer threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Tim Glisker in the third quarter, but the Clippers stopped Fischer’s conversion run.

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