September 01, 2012Traditionally, I leave the commentary to my weekly column, but with this week's column already in the bag, I was part of something that I think deserves a little bit of a comment and some opinion, something I can't do in a regular article.
The Kingswood football team traveled to Gill Stadium in Manchester on Friday night to play Trinity. Everyone involved on the Kingswood side knew that this was not going to be pretty. And they were right, it was far from pretty.
But, what it did reveal is a serious flaw in the way that the divisions are drawn up for football. And while Kingswood's players, coaches and athletic administration can't change that, a game like Friday night reveals that changes need to be made.
First and foremost, this is nothing against Trinity and this is not a slight on the Kingswood football players or coaches. In fact, the coaches will freely admit that the Knights should not be playing Trinity. Then again, in my mind, neither should any public school, but that's a whole other matter.
It is no secret that Kingswood petitioned the NHIAA Football Committee to move down a division for this two-year cycle. Coach Chip Skelley knew that his program would be featuring mainly freshmen and sophomores this year and putting them up against the 18-year-old linebackers and linemen from football powerhouses Trinity and Plymouth was not going to be fair to anyone.
First and foremost, there's the safety factor. Keeping kids safe should be the number one priority of any school athletic program and there was no way that many of the Kingswood athletes on the field on Friday night were safe.
Second, the type of game where one team leads by 40 points at halftime is not beneficial to either team. It's obvious that the winning team isn't learning anything and the losing team is simply getting demoralized. It makes life difficult on both sides of the ball.
So, with its petition to move down, the Kingswood program was looking to put itself on par with smaller programs as it spends two years getting the freshmen and sophomores ready for Division IV football. This was never intended as a permanent move, but as a temporary one to allow the Kingswood program to grow.
The NHIAA did allow movement up and down this year, but the teams that moved up and down were seemingly done so on enrollment only, and the number of kids in the school is not a good indicator of the strength of a football program. Trinity is living proof of that.
Of the nine teams Kingswood played last year, seven remained in Division IV (Trinity, Kennett, Plymouth, Laconia, John Stark, Hanover, Lebanon) and two moved. But where those teams moved made absolutely no sense.
Monadnock, who was a playoff team last year, moved down to Division V, while Merrimack Valley, who finished well out of the playoff chase, moved up to Division III to take on teams like Alvirne of Hudson, Portsmouth and Souhegan.
Right there, that tells an outsider looking in that the moves were based solely on enrollment numbers. MV is facing a season much like Kingswood, where they won't be competitive with anyone.
There needs to be a better system in place. Maybe a team that goes undefeated in a season (such as Trinity did), automatically gets bumped up a division the next year and a team that goes winless (such as Kingswood) gets moved down. Obviously there are other factors to be taken into account, but this seems more fair than just moving teams up and down based on enrollment.
Next year, the new football alignments will feature just three divisions and four conferences in each division. Kingswood will be in Division II with all of the current Division IV teams, but their conference will feature Portsmouth, Pembroke, and Merrimack Valley, all teams in Division III this year.
Next year's Division II also features Milford, Souhegan, Con-Val and Hollis-Brookline from this year's Division III and Sanborn, Kearsarge and Monadnock from this year's Division V.
The problem for a team like Kingswood lies in the fact that getting beaten badly every week is going to stunt the growth of the program, making it hard to recover. Coach Skelley has done a good job of getting the numbers up in the lower grades, but games like Friday night aren't exactly good for retention. I praise the Kingswood coaching staff for doing its best to keep morale up and selling his players on looking to the future instead of to the past. It's a tough road to push through and I hope the kids are buying into it. Because they should.
I know that no matter what system is used to determine where teams are slotted, someone is not going to be happy. But what I saw on Friday night under the lights of Gill Stadium was the perfect indication of a system that is flawed and needs work. Hopefully the NHIAA can realize that and find a way to fix it.
And don't even get me started on the fact that private schools like Trinity, St. Thomas and Bishop Guertin get to play regular public schools. That's a whole other issue for another time.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126