Andrew Krenzer remembers tuning into a televised football game one Sunday afternoon nearly 30 years ago and being quite surprised by what he saw. On the screen, were a bunch of guys running around the field, wearing purple jerseys and helmets, and trying to score touchdowns.
He just assumed he was watching his heroes from Pine Valley Central School.
"Hey, Mom," he called out to his mother, Pat, "Daddy's team is on TV."
Josh Roth storms into the end zone during Pine Valley’s Section 6 Class D championship win against Westfield in the fall of 1995. The Panthers won 46-0.
P-J file photo
Through Andrew's preschool eyes, nothing was bigger than the purple-clad PVCS Panthers, coached by his father, Bob.
Not even the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League.
For all the Pine Valley tradition, which has included numerous league titles and trips to the Section 6 championship game through the years, it couldn't compete with the declining numbers this year. Recognizing that, the district's board of education and athletic department made the announcement on Wednesday that they were canceling the season.
"This is a sad day for the Pine Valley community ..." Superintendent David Kurzawa said in a statement.
It is sad, but not surprising. School districts throughout Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties have merged because of declining student participation. Of the nine teams which were going to make up Section 6 Class D this fall, three of them (Franklinville/Ellicottville/West Valley, Westfield/Brocton and Sherman/Clymer) are only able to participate because they agreed to combine.
Pine Valley, however, wasn't able to find a partner, and the result was the end of its season before it began.
"There's a very rich tradition in athletics in general at Pine Valley,'' said Andrew Krenzer (Class of 1999), who played varsity football for the Panthers beginning as an eighth-grader, "and that will always be there. The fact the lights won't be on (on Friday nights) I don't think will change that."
Still, it will be very strange not to report on games involving the Panthers, who have won four Section 6 championships since 1979 and have a history of producing outstanding players, including Bill and Bruce Bergey in the 1960s, Ken Pattyson in the 1980s and Josh Roth in the 1990s.
"The Pine Valley players were some of the toughest groups of people I've ever had a chance of meeting," Andrew Krenzer said, "and whoever they were against, they were going to give everything they had. It's a characteristic of the kids in that district. It didn't matter who their opponent was."
Krenzer knows that experience first-hand.
In his senior year, the Panthers made an improbable run to the Section 6 Class D championship game at the home of the Buffalo Bills. Once there, they led heavily favored and second-ranked Maple Grove, 13-0, at halftime courtesy of short touchdown runs by Krenzer and quarterback Brian Lucas. The Panthers ended up losing to the Red Dragons, the eventual state champions, in overtime, but Krenzer still remembers that season fondly.
"We overachieved that year," he said. "Playing them to overtime certainly was a pretty good accomplishment. Knowing we gave them all they could handle is a memory I'll never forget."
District officials say they will make every effort to work with neighboring districts to provide an opportunity for students to participate with other teams at the varsity level.
But the lighted field in South Dayton will remain dark this fall.
And, while the numbers made the decision to "turn out the lights" necessary, it still didn't make it any less sad.