by Scott Kindberg
September 16, 2019
A Day For ‘Coach’
FALCONER — When I entered the visitors’ locker room at Salamanca High School one evening 35 years ago, I didn’t make an immediate beeline to Falconer football coach Bill Race who stood alone with his thoughts.
I had heard in advance that he didn’t take to losing very well, and he especially didn’t take to sportswriters, especially green-as-grass scribes like me, who were assigned the task of asking him questions about it postgame. So, in the immediate aftermath of the Golden Falcons’ loss to the Warriors that night in 1984, I waited for Race to make the first move.
Thankfully, my patience was rewarded, because I came out of that question-and-answer period none the worse for wear. I couldn’t have known it then, but that was just the beginning of a special relationship with the guy who was born in Archbald, Pennsylvania in 1935 and arrived in Falconer in 1962.
“Three years (was all) I was going to stay here. That was it,” he said, “because I wanted to get back to Scranton. But I found a home here and I’ve never regretted it.”
Saturday afternoon the Falconer community showed its appreciation when it rededicated the new, state-of-the-art athletic facility named in his honor. With his family, friends, school administrators and former players looking on, Race took to the microphone to address the crowd.
Because his sunglasses were shielding his eyes, I couldn’t confirm whether they were watering just a bit, but it was clear the 84-year-old was moved by the whole ceremony. The man who I was so reluctant to approach in that Salamanca locker room nearly four decades ago was speaking in an occasionally halting voice.
“I can’t even explain it,” he told me later.
To say that the new Bill Race Field is spectacular would not do the facility justice. New turf; a new track; a state-of-the-art scoreboard; and a new concession stand, dedicated to former teacher Mary Weiler, will make it a special place for everyone, from students, to athletes, to marching band members, to fans.
But for about 15 minutes before the gridiron clash between Cassadaga Valley/Falconer and Section V’s Red Jacket, the athletic complex belonged to “Coach.” Falconer Superintendent Steve Penhollow spoke, high school Principal Jeff Jordan presented Race with a gift and a tribute was displayed on the scoreboard.
“It’s an amazing day,” Penhollow said.
In case anyone needs reminding, Race won 174 victories during his career at Falconer, which earned him induction into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, the same year the field was originally named in his honor. The decision to do so was a no-brainer. After all, during one 12-season stretch, he compiled a 75-25-1 record, including a 28-game winning streak from 1973-77, two Section VI titles and a Far West Regional crown.
But the day was more than celebrating stats and victory.
“I’m just really full of pride, not only for what he did for the players, but also for so many people in and out of football,” said Billy Race Jr., who traveled with his family from North Carolina to be part of the festivities. “He’s helped a lot of people and cared about people in this community of Falconer so much. I run into people all the time who said they couldn’t stand my dad from August to November (during football season) and then after they graduated they’ve said they’ worked so hard in their job, because he taught them hard work.
“That really makes me feel good, as his son, to hear that.”
The idea occurred to Race Jr. early last week. Why not have his son, Breck, lead the Cassadaga Valley/Falconer team onto the field before the opening kickoff?
So after getting the thumbs-up from the Falconer administration, as well as from Golden Cougars head football coach Joel Sopak, Breck stood in the scoreboard end of the field and, when given the OK, he sprinted out to near midfield while slapping hands with cheerleaders and members of the Falconer midget football teams along the way.
Wearing No. 44 — Billy Jr.’s number when he played at Falconer 30 years ago — Breck left his grandpa nearly speechless.
“Watching Breck lead the team on the field is a memory I’ll never forget,” the elder Race said.
It was only fitting.
Saturday was meant for memories.