Reporter James Williamson captures the essence of The Northeast Classic. Its rivalry transcends between two high schools and a Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s a tradition that runs deep and even deeper is the passion from spectators, past players and alumni of both Archbishop Ryan and Father Judge. And, oh yes, there is a football game that plays out in the center of this social stratospheric event where emotions run high in quest for a victory that goes far beyond the scoreboard.
By: James Williamson
NORTHEAST PHILA.--The Bible tells us to, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” but, despite being less than five miles apart from one another, the Good Book’s lesson goes completely lost on Father Judge and Archbishop Ryan during The Northeast Classic.
When these two schools face off in their annual gridiron showdown -- a rivalry which dates back almost 60 years -- there is no love loss or love found, only a deepened desire for victory.
This is arguably one of the biggest rivalries in all of Northeast Philly. The game itself transcends football as there is much more than just wins and losses on the line, the entire neighborhood is up for grabs. When these two teams meet, it is a must-see event.
“The rivalry between both of these schools, being in such a close area, all the kids coming out of eighth grade, the rivalry between both schools trying to get these kids to go to their schools is fierce, it’s real fierce,” said Father Judge alum Paul Dooley. “No matter what their records are, you can throw the records out the window when both of these teams play. It brings out the whole neighborhood- all of Northeast Philadelphia.”
Both sets of bleachers were filled with spectators of all ages, eager to continue this storied tradition. Each school was well represented with a ravenous student section. Small children littered the field and stands, excited to take part in this rivalry for the first time, while alumni did the same, ready to reignite the passion they had as students.
Former members of the football team could be found scattered across the Father Judge side of the field, including Bob McCarthy, who was reminiscent over his former playing days
Father Judge Fans Gather to Cheer on Their Crusaders (photo- James Williamson)
“In the old days, it was North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop Ryan and Father Judge. That was a four-way rivalry and with Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty closing, its paired down to the biggest rivalry in the Northeast as far as in the catholic league,” said Father Judge alum and former football player, Bob McCarthy '74. “Back when we played, Father Judge had Saint Hubert’s, Archbishop Ryan had the girls in there and a lot of guys from Judge dated Ryan girls and a lot of guys from Ryan dated Hubert girls, so it was a kind of a macho sort of thing.”
Even some of the more prestigious alumni were excited to make an appearance, like Father Judge class of 1984 Hall of Famer LTC Charles Schretzman, USA.
Schretzman, who went on to play football for Army at West Point and served seven tours of duty, led his Judge team to capture the Philadelphia Catholic League’s 1983 Title. Stricken with ALS, the former defensive back watched from the sideline in support of his team and alma mater.
“It’s fun to be here with my dad. I’m not excited to be in a wheelchair at all, but my dad said, ‘it’s good to be around my people.’ People understand me, and I understand them,” said Schretzman.
It’s was clear from the pride in Schretzman’s voice when talking about his own personal undefeated record against Ryan that this game, though 35 years later, was still very much a part of him.
Pictured from L to R: Charles Schretzman Sr., Bill Koch & FJ Class of 1984 Hall of Famer LTC Chuck Schretzman, USA (photo courtesy of Schretzman family)
On the opposite side of the field, a blacked-out Archbishop Ryan student section was ready to cheer on their team to a second consecutive victory. The importance and perspective of this rivalry was not lost on these raucous fans.
“This rivalry is so important, it’s so deep down in our school, it’s been like this for years,” said Archbishop Ryan’s Martina Dona. “Every year, every homecoming game, you’re here, you’re present, you’re into the game, you’re into your student section, you’re so hype about everything. It’s so important. It’s tradition.”
Even students, like Joe Press, who left Ryan, return to be an active part of their student section.
Ryan Fans gather for the Northeast Classic ( photo- James Williamson)
Fans display shirts in support of the Raiders
“This is the game everyone looks forward to in the year, besides the championship. This is the one that means the most,” said Press.
“It started off with our parents and that’s made it a big, old rivalry for us. You just grow up knowing that Judge and Ryan are a big rivalry. Everyone from everywhere comes to this game.”
Standing in the front row of the bleachers, Press along with several other members of the Ryan student section wore tee-shirts displaying the numbers, "3015”, which referenced a senior week house in Wildwood, NJ that Ryan students allegedly took from Father Judge students.
Clearly passions run deep on this night.
Despite the healthy competition between these two fanbases, this game went exactly as one might have expected. An exciting back and forth first half, with answered TD’s from both teams, quickly gave way to a blow out as Archbishop Ryan defeated Father Judge 38-20. This now puts their all-time series at 27-27-3.
Impressive play from Judge quarterback Shane Dooley kept his team competitive, but big plays from Raider’s quarterback Jahlil Sanders and WR/RB Tyreek Chappell, as well as a strong second half defensive effort proved to be too much for the Crusaders. Ryan was simply dominant in every facet of the game from offense to defense to special teams, where they had two blocked punts.
It was an exciting moment for Chappell, who got his first experience playing in this rivalry. The 6’0 170 lb sophomore finished the day with nine carries for 124 yards and a touchdown, as well a 27-yard receiving touchdown.
“It felt great. I’m not really familiar with the Judge rivalry. The crowd was crazy. It was my first time playing in a game like this and we just came home with the W. so, it feels great,” said Chappell.
“We didn’t pay attention to the hype. We don’t worry about it,” said Sanders. “We come out Monday, work then. Come out Tuesday, work then. Come out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then Saturday takes care of itself.”
The bragging rights have been earned. The neighborhood belongs to Archbishop Ryan for yet another year, but they know their season is far from over. Their eyes are already set on a much bigger prize.
“When we beat Wood, we’re gonna earn the real bragging rights, that’s all,” said Sanders.
This win brings Archbishop Ryan to a 6-0 overall record.
Father Judge is (1-4).
Ryan will be on the road as they face Archbishop Wood (3-2) this Saturday at 3 p.m.
Father Judge will host La Salle (1-4) this Friday at 7 p.m.