The Smithfield Raiders Football Team

Smithfield Raiders

By Peg Brown


     The catalyst for this story is Sandra Achille, curator of the Smith-Appleby House, who received a recent donation of several historic Raiders photographs from former Raiders, including Bill Gardiner, among others. As she set up the display in the Town Room of the house, she remembered that some other memorabilia were stored in the archives. She uncovered several Raiders jackets, sweaters and other gear that had been donated by Melissa DeMeo when cleaning out her mother’s attic in Greenville. Melissa asked where these “lovingly preserved” items of her brother could find a new home. These seemingly unrelated events resulted in the Smithfield Times bringing together Bill and Charles “Buddy” Balfour, founder of the league—and this story of how a community galvanized around a pre-teen football program unfolded.


     The Smithfield Times intends this to be a two-part article with a second installment in the August issue. Recognizing the unique community involvement by hundreds or our Smithfield residents, we invite you to contact the author, Peg Brown, at, to share your Raiders stories, anecdotes, memories and lessons learned that will be featured in August. If you have memorabilia you’d like to share, we would be delighted if you would let us know.

     ARTICLE Headline

     The Eagles Are Dead…Hail To The New Champions!…The Smithfield Raiders (The Observer, Thursday, November 17, 1966)

     The iconic ProJo sports writer, Bill Reynolds, once wrote: “If you’re looking for purity in college sports, go look in Division III…”

     If Reynolds had been covering what was happening in Smithfield for boys 9-12 over a decade during the 1960s and 1970s, he might have made similar remarks about purity in youth sports. The Smithfield Raiders, conceived, promoted, funded and energized almost exclusively by founder Charles “Buddy” Balfour, quickly engaged an entire community with a single focus: “Teaching the boys the fundamentals of football, developing leadership, sportsmanship and character in boys.” Core to Buddy’s philosophy was the issue of character development through discipline and the impact community pride can have on our youth.

     And the Raiders was not just about young boys. As the program developed, over 15 coaches were involved. Cheering the teams on were the Raiderettes, both “varsity and junior” squads (coached by Ann McKinley), a pep squad, a Woman’s Auxiliary, and a board of directors. The community was mobilized by Buddy’s commitment and vision.

     When he first put out the call for participants, he envisioned perhaps 10 or 20 would show up at Burgess Field for try-outs. Over 100 eventually vied for their chance to play. The turn out resulted in an A and B team, and several teams, such as the Georgiaville Jets and the Esmond Eagles, who played each other within Smithfield, giving everyone of whatever talent level the opportunity to be part of the Raiders family.

     At the time Buddy began the program, he was working as a pressman at the Providence Journal making a very modest salary—a salary he invested almost exclusively in supporting the growth of the Raiders program. He mentioned that in the early days, they “lit” Burgess Field with the assistance of his father who mounted a few bulbs on pieces of plywood which, when coupled with parents willing to leave their car lights on, allowed an “under the lights experience.”

     As the program and excitement evolved, food trucks appeared at games. Buddy recalls that his mother ran the first concession and his father collected tickets at the gate. Buddy made a deal to buy shoes which he sold out of his basement for $5 a pair so that the teams could have a uniform look. He borrowed helmets from surrounding football teams, and began raising money to provide the first-class look to his teams, his cheerleaders, and his players, many of whom didn’t have the resources for gear. When his team won the State Championship in 1966, he bought the entire team champion jackets, one of those donated to Smith-Appleby by Melissa DeMeo.

     The boys sold Readers’ Digests and other products, and Buddy and volunteers lined the fields, held practices three nights a week, double on Saturday. Special plays such as the Statue of Liberty and the 27 Slant were developed that led to many victories on the field. But win or lose, parties were held after every game in Buddy’s back yard for players and their parents.

     The Raiders team in 1968 had a special experience, arranged by Buddy who had a personal relationship with Leo Flynn of the Levittown Long Island Red Devils. In December the boys and their coaches boarded a bus bound for New York City. While the Raiders lost the game 19-7, their weekend stay with host families and tours of the Big Apple were the life experiences Buddy felt were so important to developing self-confidence and an independent spirit.

     Make no mistake. If you were a Raider, you followed the rules. Buddy had no problem in telling those who couldn’t follow the rules to essentially “take a hike over the nearest hill.” But in leaving, a former Raider was clearly giving up the many role models that the program provided.

     The games evolved into major community events. Homecomings were held annually, and a newspaper article in the archives indicates that “Miss Robin Marshall of Johnston, age 11 was crowed Homecoming Queen and presented with appropriate awards.” At the same game, there was also a band and “the large crowd was entertained by Miss Donna-Marie Muenzel of Warwick, one of New England’s top baton twirlers.” It was also in this game against Woonsocket that the Raiders were so far ahead “Coach Bud Balfour and staff used all of their players to give them the much-needed experience that only come from actual game play.” Again, sportsmanship reinforced.

     The program also received state recognition. In 1969 Lt. Governor J. Joseph Garrahy present a trophy to Buddy at a club 44 testimonial dinner attended by over 200 in recognition of his founding of the program in the early 1960s. As the newspaper reported, at the beginning of the program, “only thirteen boys came out for the team that now boasted 45 players, fifteen cheerleaders and a forty-member cheering section.” By 1969 the team had compiled a record of 33 league victories, four Division Championships, tied one and won the State Championship. In 1969 boosters were operating a concession stand, arranging homecomings, soliciting support for program ads to fund the program, had a formal publicity program and secured transportation. The Smithfield Fire Department, the Jaycees, Lions, Police Department, Town Council, Elks, and School Department also supported their seasons. Dr. Marz served as team physician. And Buddy, a graduate of North Providence High School, was just 27, married with two daughters, leading the Raiders growth.

     In 1967 The General Assembly issued a resolution congratulating Buddy and the Raiders not only for their 1966 State Championship, but “for encouraging organized and supervised sports program for the youth of the state.”

     Buddy will also tell you that there are certainly “Rhode Island stories” to be told. Such as how a pizzeria that didn’t open on Sundays could suddenly produce 50 pizzas with any toppings needed for that day—or how a few steak sandwiches and some liquid libation miraculously resulted in Barry Field being wired and professionally lit over just one weekend.

     But the important stories lie with you, our readers. Most of those involved with the Raiders are approaching retirement, and few young people probably have never heard of the Raiders. And that’s why we invite you to tell us for the next issue about your memories and life lessons learned by being part of this community-centered decade of competition, cooperation and local pride.

     Click here to see photos of the Smithfield Raiders.

    For Uniform Photos, Click Here

     Author’s Note:

     I purposely didn’t name individual members of the teams, because as Buddy indicated there must be close to 1,000. Please share your story with us. While it might not have been Camelot, it was a very special era in Smithfield history.

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