The way we were: '63 Freeport football team remembered


It was the year the team was unbeaten (8-0). They took the South Shore Division II championship and were awarded the Rutgers Cup for the best team in Nassau County. It was also the year that Guy Riccardi became the first FHS gridder to win the Thorpe Award for the best player in Nassau County. And, it was the last football season for Coach Bill Ashley, a Freeport legend who coached for 23 years and brought four Rutgers Cups to Freeport.

This weekend, members of that dream team will return to Freeport to visit with old friends, reminisce and take in Saturday’s game – Freeport faces Oceanside at home, beginning at 4 p.m.

Third-generation Freeporter Eddie Martin spoke with The Leader about that magical fall of 1963 and the upcoming reunion.

“We were just a bunch of neighborhood kids who grew up playing all kind of sports,” said Mr. Martin, who began playing football in seventh grade. “Many of the guys on the [football] team played a lot of sports. Some wrestled, I also played lacrosse.”

Although Mr. Martin said he preferred playing lacrosse, “football is about strength. It is the ultimate team sport, everybody plays together. The players are all choreographed so you can execute blocks. That’s what practicing is all about. It’s grueling but when you execute on game day, it’s very rewarding,” he explained.

And all that practice paid off for the Red Devils when they faced East Meadow, who were favored to win. With a minute to go, a 41-yard pass play from Tom Bird to Joe Tuitt gave the Red Devils a 6-0 win. According to Newsday, all the spectators were on their feet watching Joe Tuitt race “diagonally toward the end zone.” Tom Bird threw the pass and Tuitt caught it. “He sped those last few steps into the end zone and leaped high into the air,” wrote Newsday

“It was a real dog fight,” said Mr. Martin. “We heard how East Meadow was pummeling other teams and we knew we were evenly matched.” Mr. Martin said “this was a special play, one you save as a surprise and wait for the right moment.”

There were other tough teams to face that season including Hempstead and Baldwin. “We didn’t think about winning the Rutgers Cup. We just wanted to win, every game,” said Mr. Martin. “It was very much our mind set. Beat everyone – that’s the goal.”

Another reason for the team’s success was “Coach Ashley. He had the great ability of putting players in positions where they were successful,” said Mr. Martin. “He saw the talent level and knew how to develop it.”

Coach Ashley’s record, while at Freeport, was 124 victories, 37 defeats and five ties. He was Newsday’s Coach of the Year twice, and is still the 13th winningest coach in Nassau football history.

The following year Coach Ashley retired. He died in 2004.

After graduation the boys from Freeport High School’s dream team of 1963 scattered. “Some of us went to college and then in the service; others went right into the service,” said Mr. Martin, referring to the draft that took our young men to Vietnam in the 1960s and early 19070s. Mr. Martin was in the Navy and on active duty in 1966. “For my generation, it was our modus operandi; we went and served, came back and settled somewhere, got married and we lived our lives. We lost touch, for a while.”

When Tom Bird, now in California, reached out to his former teammates to hold a reunion, Mr Martin was happy to help out. “I’m the Freeport connection,” he laughed.

In addition to the Red Devils 1963 football team, “we’ve been inviting Coach Ashley’s former players from the 1950s and 1960s to honor him,” said Mr. Martin.

At press time the following alumni were slated to attend the reunion. They are Tom Bird, Guy Riccardi, Steven Beneville, Tom Henry, Denis Berg, Ron Rizzo, John Liebler, Mike Pellicio, Ed Martin, Gary Pappas, Joe Tuitt, Bobby Allen, Marshall Glenz, Howard Jacobson, Wayne Ruben, Jim Wehrum, Harold Nelson, Orlando Alyston, and John Deas.

There will be a dinner Friday evening and a tailgate party at Freeport High School on Saturday and then on to the main event – the football game. “This was the best league and we were the best team that year,” said Mr. Martin. “But it all comes down to the guys – a great bunch of guys.”

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Regina Feeney for her assistance in providing research material for this story.