HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - The 1950s were an up-and-down decade for Hasbrouck Heights football.
Established as a Group 1 powerhouse in North Jersey under coach Andy Kmetz, the Aviators would add two league titles and four state sectional titles to the increasing total of championships. The early part of the decade saw four consecutive titles from 1952-55 in North 1 Group 1, after a sluggish few years for the Aviators program.
Coming off a 2-8 season in 1949, the Aviators turned in a 4-5 season in 1950. Highlights included three wins on the road, over Fort Lee (in their first appearance there since the riot), Park Ridge, and at Harrison. But the home field was no longer an advantage, as the Aviators scored just 21 points at home while compiling a 1-4 record.
The lowlights included being shut out three times on their home field, by Hawthrone (13-0), Bergenfield (25-0), and on Thanksgiving by Wood-Ridge, 19-0. It was the third straight year that Hasbrouck Heights had lost to Wood-Ridge.
The offense could only muster 74 points on the year, while the defense was respectable, with only 117 points allowed in nine games. The team’s best player was tackle Bill Van Kleunen, who made third team All-County. Bill Bischoff (1st team end), Bill King (2nd team guard) and August Herkert (honorable mention) joined Van Kleunan on the BCSL honor rolls.
It was back over the .500 mark for the Aviators in 1951, with an improved offense and a 5-3-1 mark. A two-game losing streak to open the season had Aviator faithful uneasy, especially the 33-0 shellacking at the hands of Fort Lee. But behind quarterback Dick McCullough (1st team All BCSL), Hasbrouck Heights won three in a row, before tying Westwood (13-13) and losing by a touchdown to Bergenfield (25-19.)
After rebounding with a shutout over Closter, 24-0, the Aviators traveled to Wood-Ridge for an 18-12 victory at Thanksgiving, breaking the three-game losing streak against the Blue Devils.
Guard John Maita (1st team), End Richie Pfeifer (2nd team), tackle Jim Livitino (Honorable Mention), running back Jim Meccia (Honorable Mention), center Charlie Ratcliffe (honorable mention), running back Ralph Redling (honorable mention) and guard Russ Smith joined McCullough on the BCSL All League team.
1952 through 1955 (to be covered in a separate story) was one of the highpoints of Aviators football, as the team captured two league titles and won four consecutive state championships. (One of which was later taken away.) Hasbrouck Heights Hall of Famer Sy Schwartz was named the first Bergen Record Athlete of the Week.
The run of prosperity ended abruptly in March of 1956, when head coach Andy Kmetz resigned after 17 seasons, and 100 wins in a contract dispute with the school board. The football coaches had coached the entire season without contracts.
Under new coach Joe Romano, who also served as the boys basketball coach, the Aviators hit the skids, going 1-7 in 1956 and 0-7-1 in 1957. The Aviators were outscored 166-19 on the season, with their only win coming against Wood-Ridge, 13-0, in the season finale during Thanksgiving.
In 1957, the team was outscored 157-21, as the team could only muster a 7-7 tie, with Bergenfield.
Jim Grantham replaced Romano for the 1958 as the head coach of the Aviators, and quickly brought the team back to the middle of the pack, as Hasbrouck Heights finished with a 4-5 record. A slow start to the season gave the season am easy feeling. The Aviators lost their first three games, two by shutout, and gave up 83 points, while scoring only 20. A three-game win-streak brought the Aviators back to 3-3. But losses to two rivals, Dumont (13-0) and Wood-Ridge (26-14) sandwiching a win over Leonia kept the Aviators under .500 for the year.
The line carried the resurgence as center Paul DeRosa was first team All-County. He was joined on the BCSL All-League team by guard Al Breen (second team), running back Tom Lecoque (2nd team) while lineman Warren Lowe received honorable mention.
Despite being outscored for the season, Hasbrouck Heights managed a 5-4 record in 1959. A 2-0 start was reason for optimism, before a 41-6 to Bergenfield dampened things. Wins over Bogota (28-6) and Fort Lee (14-6) had the Aviators at 4-1, before a home loss to Ridgefield Park (27-6) set the stage for three straight road games to end the season. A win over Dumont (13-7) was followed by losses to Leonia (12-0) and Wood-Ridge (18-8.)
Back Jerry McDonald was Third team All-County. He was joined on the BCSL honor roll by center Steve Jones (1st team), guard Jim Roche (2nd team) while linemen Alex Hochheiser and Warren Howe, were joined by backs John Kroncke and Larry McLean as honorable mention selections.
(Editor's Note: A nod of thanks to Pat Rice of Bergenpassaicfootball.com for the listing of scores, starting from the 1950's forward. It allowed me to research more of what happened, than just trying to find the scores in the Newspaper archives.)
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