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The mightiest of the Highs
Walter Bingham
October 10, 1977
New York's Monsignor Farrell went all the way to Cincinnati for the experience of meeting the No. 1 high school team, and Moeller made it all too unforgettable
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October 10, 1977

The Mightiest Of The Highs

New York's Monsignor Farrell went all the way to Cincinnati for the experience of meeting the No. 1 high school team, and Moeller made it all too unforgettable

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. One day last May, Dennis Barrett, football coach of Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island in New York, discovered he had room for another game on his schedule. Farrell had won the state title two years in a row, was ranked 18th in the nation in the preseason polls and, in 11 seasons under Barrett, had a record of 74-9-4. So the 34-year-old coach, a feisty little guy, decided to shoot for the moon. He phoned Gerry Faust of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, the same Moeller that was No. 1 in the country last year. "How about a game?" asked Barrett. "You're on," answered Faust.

What Barrett should have done was call Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Surely Farrell wouldn't have been much worse off. Playing at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium on Friday night before a crowd of 24,000—more people than the Reds drew the same night or the Bearcats would the next night—Moeller gave the boys from the Big City a big working over, scoring in every period, never allowing Farrell remotely near the goal line and winning 30-0.

The results did not shock Barrett. He once played a little quarterback at the University of Cincinnati and was well aware of the caliber of Ohio high school football. "Look, even if we lose, the trip will have been an experience," he said the evening before the game. "Good for the program, good for the kids. Heck, a lot of them have never been on a plane."

Moeller and Farrell are much the same in a number of ways. Both are Catholic schools for boys only. Moeller was founded in 1960 and has 1,030 students, Farrell in 1962 with an enrollment of 1,200. Both stress their high academic standards and discipline. Before addressing his players at a training meal, Barrett ordered them to "sit up straight" and they moved as one. As similar as they might be, the schools are located 659 miles apart, and Barrett discovered that there is a bit more to scheduling Moeller than a phone call. To start, a New York State rule prohibits travel beyond a 300-mile radius of a team's home, but Barrett was able to negotiate a waiver. He also decided that if the team were to go at all, it would be by plane, spending the night before the game in a motel. No 17-hour bus rides for Farrell. The cost of such an undertaking was put at $15,000, a sum Farrell raised with remarkable speed by selling raffle tickets at $10 apiece, the prize being $5,000.

Farrell won its first two games this season, the second, an 18-12 defeat of New Dorp, with two Moeller assistant coaches in attendance. In turn, Farrell scouted Moeller, Barrett himself watching a 35-7 rout of Princeton ( Ohio) High. The two schools also exchanged films. Then last Thursday morning, cheered on by the school band and the entire student body, 54 Farrell players, six assistant coaches and Barrett boarded two buses for Newark Airport. When their chartered plane landed in Cincinnati at noon, Faust and other members of Moeller's administration were there to greet them. So were reporters from two local television stations. The New Yorkers excitedly watched themselves on TV a few hours later.

That night Farrell worked out at Nippert Stadium; their only previous experience under lights and on artificial surface was a night practice Barrett had arranged at Brooklyn College. Barrett also spent a lot of time showing his players the proper way to enter the field. "I don't want them looking sloppy," he said. Riding back to the motel on the bus, he was worried. "Moeller's receivers are bigger than our cornerbacks," he said. He admitted he hadn't been sleeping well.

Moeller, too, was keyed up for the game, but then Moeller is always keyed up, which in part accounts for its record—132-16-2, all under Gerry Faust. Faust, who is 42, is about as intense as a man can get, speaking with machine-gun rapidity and almost trotting down the hallways of the school, the upper half of his body well ahead of the lower.

The Moeller locker room would make Vince Lombardi proud. Inspirational signs are hung everywhere. Some stay up all season, others refer to the upcoming game. Some examples: YOU CARRY WITH YOU MORE THAN THE PRIDE OF A FOOTBALL TEAM, YOU CARRY THE PRIDE OF A STATE; BLACK OUT NEW YORK; A POWERFUL OFFENSE IS A BEAUTIFUL CREATION.

There is also a bulletin board that carries photos and press clippings of upcoming opponents—Farrell's splendid receiver, Frank Marone, was prominent last week—and a Moeller Hall of Champions, which lists past heroes, many of whom have gone on to the pros, most prominently Steve Niehaus. Last year 20 Moeller graduates went to college on football scholarships, 16 went the year before, 21 the year before that. Moeller's 150-page game program lists 14 assistant coaches. There are 200 players in the program on three teams. The varsity is virtually restricted to seniors and juniors; sophomores and freshmen play on their own teams. While the varsity has not lost a regular-season game since 1972—46 straight—the other two teams were a comparatively lackluster 13-3-1 last season.

Curiously, Moeller does not have its own field. It plays at a nearby public high school, the University of Cincinnati or Riverfront Stadium. For "the super bowl of high school football," as the game with Farrell was being billed around town, the two schools rented Nippert Stadium for $2,500 and divided an estimated $35,000 in gate receipts.

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