Dick Cerone, who led the construction of the state high school football tournament, is a member of the newest class of inductees to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
Cerone, 84, has been acknowledged by the high school sports sanctioning body for more than 50 years of work in athletics, during which he worked “to the improvement of the sport of football in New York state.” A resident of Greece, he was the NYSPHSAA’s football chairman for 33 years, beginning in 1981.
Cerone will be inducted with the entire of class of six on July 31 at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, Oneida County. This is the seventh hall of fame Cerone has been selected to including, the Section V Football Hall of Fame as well as the groups at Greece Athena and Aquinas.
“His impact has been one that has totally changed the landscape of high school football in New York,” Section V football chairman and Pittsford athletic director Scott Barker said. “When Dick started with his role, there was no state championship.
“High school football was very local. You played seven or eight games and that was it. Through Dick’s leadership, everything we are doing today with the state playoffs, playing the championship games in the Carrier Dome (at Syracuse University), the level of which New York State high school football has elevated to, can be traced back to him and all of his work.”
More than a half century of service
Cerone’s career in education and Rochester-area high school sports goes back to 1961. He was hired by Barney Smith, who coached football at West High, where Cerone attended high school before serving two years in the United States Army and then graduating from Ithaca College.
It was as a student at Ithaca where Cerone met his wife, Jean, 83, who has spent the last 15 months at Monroe Community Hospital.
“We are working on 61 years of marriage,” Cerone said.
It was another alliance that led to Cerone sitting at the center of high school football in the state and in Section V for decades.
Smith, then an administrator in the Rochester City School District, gave Cerone a choice in 1963. Would Cerone like to coach football or continue to coach basketball, as he had at Franklin.
“I’d like to do both,” Cerone said. “He said, ‘No, pick one.’”
Cerone chose football, and that meant working with Roger Bunce, then the athletic director at Jefferson. Bunce was also the chairman of Section V football and would hold the same role at the state level.
“Everything I did was with Rog,” Cerone said.
Cerone, who coached three city league championship football teams in 16 years at Jefferson, created the Section V Football Clinic in 1964. Never mind, the challenge of funding, Cerone was told by Bunce. They would figure that out. The annual clinic, which some years included widely recognized college football coaches, lasted for 19 years.
“One year, I was with Roger,” Cerone said. “He said, ‘I’m going to step down as chairman (of Section V football). I asked who is going to take over. He said, ‘You are.’ “
About a decade later, Cerone and Bunce were preparing to drive to Albany for a high school football state committee meeting.
“The day before, he hands me the agenda,” Cerone said. “I said, “Why are you giving me this, I’m going there with you.’ He said, ‘I’m not going. I resigned (as the NYSPHSAA high school football state chairman). He hadn’t told anybody.
“I said, ‘Really, who is taking over?’”
It was Cerone who took the baton in Bunce’s drive to form a high school football state tournament. Cerone had to settle for a slow growing version that crowned regional champions, until an influential coach threw his support behind the grander idea.
“I’m making the presentation and then there is this loud boom after he slammed his hand down on the table,” Cerone said. “He said, ‘I’m tired of seeing Cerone up there talking about this. Let’s pass the thing, and if it falls flat…’ “
The first complete version of the NYSPHSAA high school football tournaments took place in 1993, 16 years after the creation of the Section V football playoffs.