(Below are three unrelated stories that occurred in the 1950s that no one talks about when speaking about the glory days of football in Hasbrouck Heights. Yet, they happened and are a part of the history of the program. )
HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Before 1974, when the NJSIAA started tinkering with playoffs (a tinkering which not stopped since), football championships were awarded by a committee. A committee, which used mathematical ratings called the Colliton Ratings (developed by A. Whitney Colliton, a mathematician) as well as subjective judgment, decided who were state champions.
The formula for the Colliton Ratings was proprietary (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but it was only a guideline. The NJSIAA football championship committee’s judgment was the determining factor. It is also how Hasbrouck Heights could be awarded more Group 1 Championships than win league titles. The strength of the Hasbrouck Heights schedule was always part of the deliberations.
Finishing the 1953 season with a 7-1-1 record, losing only to a 7-2 Bergenfield squad, and playing to a 0-0 tie with Westwood (who also finished 7-1-1) the NJSIAA awarded the North 1, Group 1 title to Hasbrouck Heights. Having won the championship in 1952, and having won five under coach Andy Kmetz in the 1940s, it was business as usual for the state.
That title, however would be voided in early February, 1954. Hasbrouck Heights High School principal, Dr. Mary Mohair, self-reported to the NJSIAA a violation of the state’s transfer rules, and the use of ineligible players.
Starting end Bob Rosenfeld had transferred into Hasbrouck Heights in February 1953 from the Englewood School for Boys (now Englewood-Dwight High School) and under NJSIAA guidelines at the time, was ineligible for one year. Despite Hasbrouck Heights self-reporting of the violation, the NJSIAA stripped Hasbrouck Heights of all seven victories and one tie in football, as well as the North 1, Group 1 title.
The boys basketball team was also stripped of six games Rosenfeld played in before the date he became eligible to play in February.
But that was not the only controversy that surrounded Heights football in the 1950s........
Speaking at a testimonial dinner in his honor at the Robin Hood Inn in Clifton in November of 1953, Kmetz said that there “were forces in town trying to wipe out interscholastic sports” at the high school. Per an article in the Passiac Herald News of November, 28, 1953:
“I want to warn you to be on the alert,” Kmetz told his listeners. They have been trying to discourage me but I'm going to fight them as much as I can. These forces, certain members of the Board of Education, favor a strong intramural athletic program instead of an interscholastic program.
“I insist there is room for both programs since intramural athletics are also important. But we must not cut into interscholastic sports. That too, is an important athletic program at Hasbrouck Heights.”
Interscholastic sports remain today, but Kmetz, despite being one of the top football coaches in the state, would leave as Hasbrouck Heights football coach not too much later.
He resigned following the 1955 season, which he coached without a contract. Kmetz, who according to newspapers reports had been unhappy with the football situation for a “few years” had told reporters (off the record) earlier in the year that 1955 would be his last season coaching. He stayed in Hasbrouck Heights as a teacher until his retirement.......
Then there is the story, or non-story, of a volunteer assistant Orben “Speck” Sanders, and a case of mistaken identity. In 1947, the leading rusher for the New York Yankees of the All America Football Conference was a gentlemen named Orben “Spec” Sanders from Lawton, Oklahoma.
So when the man who owned the Esso Station at Berry’s Creek in East Rutherford said he was “Spec” Sanders began talking football with a few alumni, one thing led to another, and soon he was a volunteer assistant at Hasbrouck Heights. Everyone presumed he was the “Spec” Sanders of the Yankees fame. Everyone except former Hasbrouck Heights assistant and Fordham star Dick Doheny, who told the Augie Leo of the Herald News he did not think they were same person.
Leo contacted the Yankees Orban “Spec” Sanders in Lawton, Oklahoma, who said that he had not left his hometown in six years,. The Sanders assisting at Hasbrouck Heights was definitely not the former AAFC star.
When contacted, Sanders admitted that he was not that Orban "Spec" Sanders, but shared the name, and having played quarterback at Texas Tech in 1937-38 , thought he was qualified to be helping out. Athletic Director Gary Depken said that Sanders never said he had played for the Yankees or was an All-American.
"I've nothing bad to say about 'Orben (Spec) Sanders." said Kmetz. "I've had him at my house a few times and found him very pleasant. Many times he went on scouting trips for us, and actually it cost him money," added Kmetz.
"He did help the kids,” Kmetz said “But 'I'll tell you in the coaches' dressing room he used to talk about, Ratterman, Arnie Wienmeister and Buddy Young. “
“I remember one time when Bob Curley sometime last October, wrote a feature story about him. Sanders called me up and told me he didn't care for 'all that was said about him.’ I told him, thinking that he was referring to the publicity. not to worry. But he never said to me that he wasn't the real "Speck" Sanders," concluded Kmetz.
Orben Sanders said he was named after his grandfathers, Orville and Benjamin. The Sanders who played for the Yankees name was spelled Orban.
Curley, who was a member or The Herald News sports department, wrote October 29. 1955,that "Spec" Sanders, ex-pro star, had returned to the United States from South America and was helping coach the Hasbrouck Heights High School football team.
But there was no scandal, no issue with the help that Sanders had provided, just a little misdirection.
(Editor’s note: Nothing else has been found out about the story, whether Sanders kept coaching, or just faded away. Joe Romano, who inherited this story as the new Aviator head coach, would have enough struggles the next two years, going 1-14-1, before being replaced as head coach.)
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