By Tim Schmitt
The Tonawanda News
— Just a quick note of thanks to Barbara Tucker for her column giving Tonawanda High School a little love after a hard-fought loss to NT in the annual classic this year.
There’s not much that gets by Barbara, I know first-hand from working in the newsroom with her for years, admiring her community connections all the while.
The loss of Clinton Small Stadium, albeit necessary because of state mandates and funding procedures, will unfortunately cheapen the experience of the legendary game going forward, but at least the hometown Warriors made the final go-round at the ol’ ball field a thriller.
Some, like the recently departed Tonawanda superintendent, have speculated that the game no longer makes sense, but in reality there’s little else that gets the two sides such exposure, especially in down years. There’s no substitute opponent that could draw such attention — I was personally looking for updates on my phone from the West coast during the big game.
As for the stadium, the folks who’ve been involved are all short-sighted, failing to realize the facility will now be run of the mill, a similar experience to all others throughout Western New York and the rest of the state. Lumberjacks Sports Complex might be more convenient, and it’s certainly seen the glory days of NT football, but there was nothing that compared to George Vetter Stadium, a place that oozed history and charm.
Clinton Small has been an even more unique venue than Vetter, train whistles howling, fans packing onto Main Street on game night, and my personal favorite — the birch beer production plant next door.
The Twin City Geminis played semi-pro football in Clinton Small, and not many other high school facilities can boast that. As a kid, I remember the buzz after those games as fans streamed to what was then Cassata’s Dome Stadium. The Eldridge Club was always rocking after THS games, and you could drop by for a bowl of chili and a cold one to talk about the Warriors’ chances any time of day, even if they were winless at the time.
Unfortunately, much of the housing and many of the public thoroughfares that need updating in my hometown of Tonawanda haven’t gotten their due. Instead, we keep tinkering with schools, building new wings and facilities, then shuttering old ones that simply need some TLC.
Do any of us think the “modern” high school on Hinds has been an upgrade over the stunning building that formerly housed the student body on Main Street? And if that school had been properly renovated, we wouldn’t need a new football facility since state grants would apply to Clinton Small.
Instead, we have what looks like a correctional facility on Hinds, the former entrance blocked in by a series of capital “improvements” and the slanted middle school wing (of which I was a member of the second class) looking dreary and dated. Those considering a move into the district must surely get put off by the school’s lackluster appearance.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t look forward, but we certainly haven’t done much learning from our past. The infamous “urban renewal” project has forever tainted the city’s business core while NT’s Webster Street remained largely intact, and eventually served as the center of the city’s renaissance.
But we keep tearing down the old, putting up cheap, newer imitations and wondering why the success rate is marginal.
It’s just another quick fix for administrations that blow through town like hurricanes, with no regard for the fact that our small city’s real character is being gutted. Rather than worrying about what’s good for the future of the district, administrators want to boast “firsts.”
In hindsight, almost all the moves have been bad ones — I remember far more about being the last class in the old high school during my seventh-grade year than being part of the second eighth-grade class in the new wing. The old building was magnificent, the auditorium nearly as spectacular as the Riviera. The new school felt ... well, cleaner. That’s really all that stands out.
Maybe someday, we’ll all meet at a new Applebee’s after the Warriors pull out a divisional championship over Burgard in their nondescript aluminum stadium. Or maybe not. Maybe there will be fewer of us there than before, many leaving for something with a little more character and tradition, something that feels genuine.
Thanks again to Barbara Tucker, one of my favorite things in the Tonawanda News. She understood what a big deal it was that Tonawanda played giant NT as tight as it did under such historic circumstances. Institutional knowledge sure is a good thing.
Tim Schmitt is a former managing editor of the Tonawanda News and a proud 1988 THS graduate. He’s currently traveling the country and keeping a log of the experience at mlcroadtrip.wordpress.com.
Tim Schmitt is a former managing editor of the Tonawanda News and a proud 1988 THS graduate. He's currently traveling the country and keeping a log of the experience at mlcroadtrip.wordpress.com