Members of the Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area communities are teaming up to save what’s believed to be the oldest existing film of their storied high school football rivalry — and, if they’re successful, they plan on making it publicly available.
The goal is to raise as much as $1,000 to digitally remaster and restore the 1969 BEA-Bellefonte football game, which currently rests on two 16mm reels of black-and-white film, and then put it on YouTube for everyone to see. Robin Hood Brewing Company in Bellefonte has already tentatively agreed to premiere the 50-year-old game the week before this year’s Curtin Bowl.
“If we can preserve a little slice of history here, that’s the most important thing,” said Bill Luther Jr., the son of legendary Red Raiders coach Bill Luther. “These game films, they’re either lost or people just can’t see them. So, in a little way, we’re trying to preserve history.”
The idea got rolling when Bill Jr. casually mentioned to two Bald Eagle Area friends that he still had the silent 1969 film — first half on one reel, second half on the other — because it was his senior season. Bill Jr. saved the film in the early 1970s when the school decided to throw nearly all of it out during a major renovation, but he only realized its importance when recently speaking with John and Karen Urbanik, the president of Eagle Ambassadors, BEA’s nonprofit education foundation.
“John and I started talking and he said, ‘Geez, we need to do something to preserve that film before it’s lost forever,’” Bill Jr. recalled.
The 1969 game was one for the ages. The rivalry was new since Bald Eagle Area formed its own school in the mid-1950s, but both communities still filled up the stadium to the tune of about 6,000. BEA took an early 6-0 lead, but Bellefonte rallied in the second half to win 14-6. Fans poured out onto the field after the final whistle. “It was like a bowl game,” Bill Jr. said.
The no-frills film was originally created so Coach Luther could evaluate his team after every game. Back then, it was commonplace to record the video, break it down with players on a projector — “If there’s something (Luther) didn’t like, he’d stop it and say, ‘What the hell was this?’” Bill Jr. recalled with a laugh — and drive to meet opposing coaches to trade it. Unfortunately, back then, it was also commonplace to destroy or throw the film away.
BEA athletic director Doug Dyke believes all such film from his school is already lost.
“I wish someone, including myself, would’ve had more hindsight when they were still around to keep (film) for projects like this because it would be neat to see these games,” Dyke said. “Kids can get more of an appreciation for the stories that are told at the Curtin Bowl dinner. It’s a great idea.”
Bill Jr. and the Urbaniks created a GoFundMe page online to accept donations for the restoration, which they’re hoping to start sometime next month. The fundraiser is aiming for $1,000 — but $600 would still likely get the job done. Any leftover funds would go to the Eagle Ambassadors, and all donations are tax deductible.
Because the film is silent, Bill Jr. and BEA’s Todd Warner — who broadcast several games on the Eagle Ambassadors’ YouTube channel — are planning to record play-by-play and color commentary to make the film more viewer-friendly. So Mark Lambert, the director of operations for Robin Hood Brewing Company, thought airing the game at the local brewpub was a no-brainer.
“It just seems like the natural, right thing to do,” Lambert said. “I thought it would be fun, I thought it would be nostalgic. ... It’s a win-win for everybody, and I thought it’d be real interesting to show the old film setup.”
This year, the Bellefonte-Bald Eagle Area rivalry game — which first took on the “Curtin Bowl” title in 1981 — will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 in Wingate. The film is expected to be finished well before then.
To donate, go to https://bit.ly/2Y6BvIj, the shortened link to the film’s GoFundMe page.