SOUTH DAYTON, N.Y. – Twenty years ago, the Pine Valley High School football team qualified for the state playoffs as one of the highest-scoring teams in Western New York history.
But as of Wednesday, the football program no longer exists.
"Heartbreaking," said Gilberto Ortiz, a Pine Valley sophomore who played inside linebacker and tight end. "Sports is my life, and football's my favorite sport, if that tells you anything."
The Pine Valley Central School District, located in South Dayton, cancelled the season for a very simple reason: the team didn't have enough players. The first workout this summer drew only 15 kids, meaning most of them would need to play both ways on offense and defense— not to mention special teams. Paul Mihalko, the principal of Pine Valley High School, said the district would consider reaching out to surrounding districts to see if they'd harbor a few of their players for the upcoming year.
The termination of the program on Wednesday marks a long fall for the Panthers, who advanced to the Class D state playoffs in 1994 and 1995. In 1995, Pine Valley beat Ellicottville 41-6 at Ralph Wilson Stadium – back then known as Rich Stadium – as a part of an undefeated regular season. That 1995 team scored 503 total points, which still ranks fifth all-time in Western New York history.
"Historically," Ortiz said, "Pine Valley was the school, when you thought about football in Western New York for the smaller schools."
In 2013, the program hit rock bottom. The Panthers finished 0-8.
"It used to be powerhouse," said Joe Tingue, a 2009 Pine Valley graduate and former Panthers quarterback. "It's sad to see a program like Pine Valley's football team, even if it wasn't the greatest over the past couple of years, to just kind of disappear."
Josh Hammond, a rising senior who would have played center this year for the Panthers, said he won't consider playing for any other programs.
"It just sucks," Hammond said, "that we're not all going to be in a huddle anymore."
Ortiz said he may consider joining Dunkirk's team, since his father lives in that area. The cancellation of the 2014 season does not necessarily mean a death sentence for the Panthers – the district could restore the program if enough players sign up in future years – but Mihalko said he hasn't even considered that possibility yet.
"Right now, I can't give you that answer," Mihalko said. "We're going to try to get through this year, and obviously, we're going to try to do something to assess the situation."
The players have a theory for why the team folded.
It's soccer's fault.
After failing to win a game last year, the football team lost popularity, and most of the boys at Pine Valley figured they'd try their hand at another sport. One player said more than 50 boys have tried out for the soccer team.
"Oh, soccer. It's… just, no," freshman Robert Chadwick said. "Soccer's terrible."
Soccer aside, South Dayton and the nearby towns and villages still lived for football.
Now, they'll have to find another school to root for-- if they can stomach it.
"It was just a community thing, everyone would come up and watch the games," Hammond said. "And now there's no football, and nobody knows what to do on Friday nights."