Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

The “French River Rivalry” - short lived but with everlasting memories

Feb 09, 2021 10:49AM ● By Rusty Oleszewski

Last month we explored facets of the French River Rivalry between Bartlett and Shepherd Hill students after graduation. We also acknowledged the camaraderie which formed between the rivals as they became teammates for different teams or institutions. 

I have been away from the local area since 1995 but have visited many times in the 25 years since. 

Now as an outsider, but someone who previously lived in Dudley or Charlton for 36 years, I see those two towns have not developed the social or commercial relationship that Dudley and Webster had, or in many cases, still has. 

It seems, perhaps only to me, that Dudley and Charlton are partners in a school system but not much more. In the 50 years or so since the Webster and Dudley school systems split, let us imagine how those officials responsible for making that decision might feel now. 

Certainly, Dudley’s farmland image has changed considerably with their population growth. So much growth that the town now has TWO stop light intersections. I used to joke when I was away at college that to find my house “you just turned right at the light!” 

The latest figures I have found show a student population of 1217 for grades 9-12 at Shepherd Hill. In comparison, Bartlett High School has 443 students in grades 9-12. 

If you recall, when the Webster School Committee decided to dismiss Dudley students from Bartlett, the high school was overcrowded, with upwards of 1000 students roaming the halls during the 1960s. 

The Dudley-Charlton school district has a total enrollment of over 4200 students compared to the Webster school district which totals near 1850 students. Webster still has two parochial schools through grade 8 whose students may or may not continue their high school years at Bartlett. But do these numbers mean that Dudley has fared better than Webster?  

From a fiscal view, the added tax dollars from a housing boom has benefitted the Dudley-Charlton district along with the contributions of continued regionalization. Webster has built a new high school and junior high school, expanded and remodeled the former Park Ave. Intermediate school. Webster is also home to that lake with the long Indian name, and yes, I can still pronounce it correctly even today. The lake seems more popular than ever as many original summer camp homes have become million-dollar investments. 

To yours truly Webster still has that tight knit, neighborhood community look and feel to it. I know the Main St. area has had its problems in recent times attracting commercial clients but a new library and police station seem to be helping spur new activity. 

The neighborhood pubs may not be as abundant as in the 20th century but just across the street from Memorial Athletic Field in Webster, the Polish-American Veterans Club, commonly referred to as the PAV, is still a gathering spot for local sports enthusiasts. Just as old tales of baseball games between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Giants or football games pitting the Baltimore Colts against the New York Giants are rehashed, the battles between Bartlett and Shepherd Hill during their heyday are etched in time. 

Names like Jarosz, Kunkel, Bazinet, Bartolomei, Lindstrom, Daskowski, Miglionico, Stearns etc. left their mark on this rivalry. During a stretch in the 1990s the schools played each other twice during the football season. Both schools benefitted from the packed grandstands. Unfortunately the respective coaches had to plea with their athletic directors to end the double meetings because the games were taking a toll on the players. They were such emotional and physical battles.

Throughout this look-back at the French River Rivalry, the majority of my focus has been on the football and basketball programs of the neighboring schools. I wish to make mention of the many other athletes competing in sports such as soccer, field hockey, softball, cross-country, track, golf and cheerleading who also created their own memories of epic wins or losses. 

I previously mentioned in an earlier chapter several coaches from both schools but I would also like to tip my hat to not only coaches at the high school level, but also, the junior high and intermediate levels and all the volunteer youth coaches. It is a huge commitment that these men and women make to teach our young athletes not only how to compete in their respective sports, but more importantly, how to do it the proper way. Sportsmanship and respect for an opponent are never misplaced by these two schools. I am proud to have been a part of helping to build from the ground up programs at a new school. Conversely, I cannot help but wonder how cool it would have been for many of us Dudley kids to have been part of the green and white tradition already in place at Bartlett High School.

In closing, I want to thank The Yankee Express and Peter Coyle for giving me the opportunity to relive and learn about some of the most formative years of my life. As we grow old, we take comfort in some of the simpler things during what has been a very disruptive, stressful and bewildering year.

Let us pray that 2021 brings a safe and effective vaccine to citizens of the United States so that life as we remember it can slowly return and local athletes can return to playing the games that they love. Stay safe and always try to do the right thing.

The Yankee Xpress note: our sincere thanks to you, Rusty, for your contribution of the French River Rivalry. Your walk down memory lane has been enjoyed by those of us who remember it well.