Middletown High School has established a great football tradition, which began more than five decades ago.
Middletown High School football rose to prominence in the mid- 1960s under the tutelage of William "Bill" Billings. At that time, the high school had fewer than 400 students, with about half of the student population being boys, yet the team had the intensity and veracity to match any other program in the state of Delaware.
During the Billings era, the team won 53 straight games, which was the state record at the time. The streak was eventually broken in the fall of 1967 by Newark High School, a team that was just coming into prominence. The following week, the Cavs fell to Salesianum 21-18, marking the first time in years that Middletown would lose two games in a row. That rivalry heated up when Sallies won the following year, by the score of 32-16 on Nov. 22, 1968. But in 1969, The Cavaliers came roaring back to win 32-0, then won again in 1970 by the score of 22-7.
One of Middletown's players during that era was Herky Billings, son of the head coach. Herky Billings is now an assistant coach and offensive coordinator at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes. Billings said that his dad treated everyone equally and fairly. "My dad never played favorites. He treated everyone the same. He knew how to push your buttons, but he knew how to get the best out of all of his players and how to get you to play your best at all times," he said. Billings said he loved growing up in Middletown where he had the chance to play football in front of big crowds. "When we took the field on Friday nights, we knew we had the support of the local community," he said.
Billings, who's now 61-years-old, confirmed that the Middletown-Sallies competition would be huge from the start of the rivalry.
"We played Sallies and beat them my freshman season, and it was like David vs. Goliath, our small school playing the big upstate school, and when we beat them, we knew it was something special," he said.
Billings and long-time friend Scotty Reihm played together at Middletown, then remained teammates at the University of Delaware. After college, Billings coached at Delaware, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and at Delaware State University with current Cape Henlopen Head Coach Bill Collick.
Salesianum graduate Kevin Reilly also has fond memories of his games against the Cavaliers. "We knew when we played them, we had to play our best game. It didn't matter that at the time we were a big school and they were very small. It was quite a surprise to us when they beat us, but they had great athletes, a lot of them played college football, and they had very good coaching," he said.After graduating from Sallies, Reilly went on to play Division 1 football at Villanova University and professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles.
When the official state tournament was established by DASSA (the precursor to DIAA) in 1971, Middletown played Wilmington High School in the first-ever championship game. The Red Devils went on to win the first title, but the school would eventually close, and the property would later house the Charter School of Wilmington, and the Cab Calloway School of the Arts.
Several years later, as New Castle County and the entire state began to grow in population, the state tournament was changed to a Division One for larger schools and Division Two for the smaller schools. The Cavaliers played in Division Two as the team's excellence on the field continued. Eventually, Billings would retire, but he would leave behind a remarkable legacy.
"Middletown had a very good team with a strong reputation," said former Smyrna High School football player Buddy Lloyd, who played for the Eagles from 1967 through 1969."Sometimes they would play a team of equal talent, but they would win on reputation, because the opposing team wasn't able to execute because of Middletown's reputation as a very good football team. They had always very well coached and had a lot of very good athletes including Herky Billings, Sonny Merkel, Allan Sheets, Scotty Rheem and a huge defensive lineman, Sam Miller to name a few," said Lloyd.
Years later, the housing boom reached lower New Castle County and the Middletown area grew exponentially.
A young coach named William "Bill" DiNardo arrived in Middletown, and gradually earned a reputation as a great coach, winning Division-2 state championships in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
"Coaching in Middletown was like a dream come true. They have hard-nosed athletes who love to play football, and learn how to play the game very well," said DiNardo, "the community support there was also tremendous."
ÐiNardo said it was gratifying to see full stands at every home game. "It is a great opportunity for the players to see 5,000 ardent fans in the stands cheering their team week after week and season after season," he said.
The coach added that he feels bless to have the opportunity to coach for two excellent programs during his career.
Dinardo left Middletown ten years ago and headed north to coach at rival Salesianum, where he continues his successful career.
In 2003, enter another, new young coach named Mark DelPercio, who turned around the Glasgow High School program.
From the beginning of his tenure, DelPercio knew there was something unique about Middletown football.
"The combination of the tradition, the history, and the expectations of what you see in a Middletown football player and a Middletown football team all combine to make this program special. The community truly rallies around the players and this team. We preach about having a "Blue Heart", and we talk constantly about the "Blue Heart", having focus and intensity, and how we play the game, and to play with purpose on the field," said DelPercio.
The coach also said he was proud the way his team takes and accepts all challenges. When the school district opened up Appoquinimink High School, and after St. Georges Technical High school opened, it was thought by some, that Middletown football would drop in quality.
"I am very proud that we have been able to sustain our level of success. That's because our guys work hard, and they do what we ask them to do in the off season and throughout the year. It's all about quality, not quantity, because we only put 11 guys on the field at a time. I'm proud we have accepted those challenges and concentrate on Middletown football," said DelPercio.
Middletown opens the 2013 season on this Saturday morning, September 7th at Concord High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. The last game of the season will be played on November 8th at 7:30 p.m., against Salesianum at Baynard Stadium in Wilmington, adding yet another chapter to this great high school rivalry.
Middletown State Football Championships: