Will Hayes certainly got a rude awakening when his father Bill took him to his first Mattituck-Southold derby as an eighth grader in 1994.
After walking past the home team’s supporters’ area at Southold High School, Will could not help but notice a rare and astonishing sight.
“They had set up two basically effigies they were hanging from the trees, bobbing up and down and one had a sign on the neck that said Litchhult and the other one had a sign that said Wines,” he said.
He was referring to Mat Litchhult and Brian Wines, Mattituck’s only two seniors that season, who also were the Tuckers’ two best players.
“It was a sight to behold,” Hayes said with a chuckle. He added, “You knew you were in enemy territory when you walked up to the field.”
It wasn’t a friendly rivalry.
When the two schools get together in Mattituck on Saturday, such vindictive representations of the enemy are expected. Mattituck will celebrate its homecoming with a doubleheader, the girls team playing Southold/Greenport at noon and the boys teams playing at 2 p.m.
Those derby days are long gone, frozen in another era in what many observers and players considered one of the best high school rivalries on Long Island, if not the best.
When Mattituck moved up from Class C to Class B in 2005, it ended league play between the two teams. The Tuckers compete in Suffolk County League VII, the First Settlers in League VIII. The schools have held scrimmages together and clashed in the Brookhaven Summer Soccer League, but that’s not the same as a real, honest-to-goodness game.
Though it is a non-league encounter, the game still could be intense. Both teams are highly ranked in their respective classes. Southold (10-2-1, 8-0) is sixth among Class C in New York State, Mattituck (9-3, 6-3) is 15th in the Class B poll.
Hayes, in his first season as coach, asked his athletic director, Gregg Wormuth, if Mattituck could schedule Southold again.
“I’ve got to give Gregg a lot of credit,” he said. “When I had my job interview, I said I wanted to play Southold every year. He said, ‘Yeah, we could do that.’ I’m pretty sure that Andy [Sadowski, Southold’s coach] wasn’t happy that we’re playing because it would ruin their state rankings if we beat them. More than anything else, it’s a good opportunity for people from the different communities to come out and watch a big game on your doorstep. It doesn’t really have a lot of significance that it used to have.”
But back in the day, it certainly did.
Just ask Rich Mullen, who played left halfback for Southold from 1977-79. He remembered when game officials checked the players’ cleats prior to a derby kickoff.
“The refs saying, to both teams that this is the greatest rivalry in Suffolk County,” he said before the First Settlers’ homecoming last month. “It was just tremendous.”
Jonathan Schlachter, a member of the Southold Class of 1994 who played center midfield and forward, recalled the intensity.
“I remember police cars parked on the old field,” he said. “They had three of them parked in the corner over there just in case there were any problems. It was very intense.”
Just how intense?
“Back in the day, if you played for Southold, you could go 0-20 for the season, but you better go 2-18 because you better beat Mattituck,” Schlachter said. “If you wanted to win state championships you had to beat Mattituck. It always came down to them to get anywhere.”
Besides the hanging jerseys incident, other pre-game pranks included students stealing their rivals’ goal nets the and smashed pumpkins in enemy territory.
Sometimes there was downright intimidation. After a spaghetti dinner in his junior year, Schlachter remembered “going to Mattituck’s star player’s house at 8 o’clock at night because we were playing them the next day and we told him we were coming for him.”
It didn’t work.
“We ended up losing,” he said.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, someone planted a tree right smack in the middle of the Southold pitch the night before a game.
“They came to school the next day and there was a tree planted in the middle of the field,” Schlachter said. “The custodial staff had to dig it up.”
In some families, the rivalry still smolders just a bit. Mattituck assistant coaches Alex Scalia and Matt Waggoner played for the Tuckers the last time the two neighboring schools met in 2009, and Scalia’s younger brother, Jason, is a sophomore on the team. Their father Tom, played for Southold on two state Class D championship teams in the early 1980s.
“We have even an internal family rivalry going on with that,” Alex said. “It’s more friendly than anything.”
For bragging rights?
“Definitely,” he said. “Every time Mattituck and Southold play each other in the summer league games, there’s always teasing going back and forth.”
For the record, Southold recorded a 2-1 win over Mattituck in 2009, as Justin Rothman scored the first goal for the winners and freshman Evan Miller, who would become an all-state player, struck for the game-winner in overtime.
“It doesn’t matter what side you’re on,” Sadowski told The Suffolk Times at the time. “You score against your opponent in this situation, that’s a huge goal.”
Litchhult was Mattituck’s coach then.
“I don’t think it’s as intense as it was,” he told The Times. “I still think Mattituck wants to beat Southold, and Southold wants to beat Mattituck. I think in [my years of playing for Mattituck] there was actual hatred for each other. I don’t think it’s at that level right now, but it is very good for the North Fork and the community to see good soccer.”
Who knows? The rivalry could be revived on a regular basis in several years if population trends continue.
“If Mattituck continues to shrink the way it has, in a couple of years, it probably will be a heated game again,” said Hayes, who noted there were only 70 children in his son’s kindergarten class in Mattituck.
In contrast, the senior class of 2015 had 129 graduates.
If that trend continues, Hayes said, “that means we would be back in their league and it would be us against them, a really heated game.”
Which would be quite appropriate for two schools with such storied soccer programs.