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Is high school football in Berlin's Future?

A petition to incorporate football into Berlin High School has gotten more than 400 signatures. The Berlin Gladiators Football Association is being used as a model to demonstrate the success of the program. Pictured here are the current IFL champions, the Berlin Gladiators. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
October 26, 2016
BERLIN – Berlin City Councilor Russ Otis set up a petition to present to the Berlin High School Board of SAU3 on Monday, Octo. 17, regarding the revival of a BHS football team. By Sunday, there were 400 signatures including from City Councilors and Mayor Paul Grenier.

Otis noted that he has not spoken with Councilor Diana Nelson yet, but that all the other Councilors have signed and support the idea of incorporating the sport into the high school.

Otis attended a school board meeting on Thursday and suggested the subject to be made an agenda item in November. He said the board told him that they will support the decision of the Berlin Athletic Director, Craig Melanson.

The Berlin Gladiators are being used as a model of success and Otis believes the team, affiliated with the Berlin Football Association and part of the Independent Football League of New England (IFL), are a prime example of how feasible the idea of having a school team is.

"I have to thank all the people in the Gladiator and Junior Gladiators program for everything they have done," he said. "I could not have purposed this without that program in place and success."

The Gladiators Football Association has successfully run the program for five years. There is a high school level team, which has just won the IFL championship for the first time, and there are two pee-wee teams associated with Pop Warner that all have full rosters and strong community support.

"Otis said the teams face issues finding opponents to play," said Otis. "The problem now is the Gladiators cannot find teams to play. They have to travel to Caribou and Houlton Maine just to find an opponent. Moving into the high school would give us a chance to be a little more local."

George McDonough, who is an assistant coach for Berlin Gladiators team, posted the online petition on his Facebook page and few issues were addressed on the comments section including costs and insurance matters and an having an equal female sport.

On the issue of high costs, Otis said in an interview that the City carries "blanket" insurance for all sports and that it would cost the same with or without football.

"The Gladiators currently carry a million dollar liability policy for the club for $1,000 per year paid for through fundraising," he added.

On social media, Mel Olson who runs the Gladiators confirmed that the teams are fully sponsored and financially supported.

"I have guaranteed sponsors that will sign legal documents to support the insurance cost and other cost for up to five years," said Olson. "A thousand dollars covers all equipment, bussing and up to $5000 worth of equipment and storage. We get insurance through USA football underwritten by K & K, a NH business."It also includes insurance on coaches and fraud. We used a bus service last year and it covered that. This year no bus service was needed due to awesome parents making the 6 hour plus ride. And we have all the equipment for all ages eight years old to 19 years old certified and willing to donate to this program."

Another topic addressed on social media was the fact that under Title IX of the New Hampshire Department of Education, there must be an equal female sport for every male sport. Cheerleading was suggested, but under Title IX, it is not considered a sport in New Hampshire. However, Berlin has girl's field hockey and soccer in the fall, and boys just have soccer.

"The equal sport criteria are met," said Otis. "We would have to have the high school football program be unified with Gorham school district for it to work. The current Gladiators and junior Gladiators currently have one-fourth of the kids coming from that school district. As far as I know Gorham is on board."

"I want to stress the overwhelming support for this program," said Otis. "I've asked the question of money to the signers of the petition. Everyone has said they would support the program financially. From the data I have collected, the people of this community really want to see it come true."

Berlin High School has not had a football team since 1982.

Many signers of the petition have added their supportive comments online at change.org.

Athletic Director Delanson said a meeting on the topic will be held on Thursday with the Board.

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