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Changes on deck for local football teams

Kennett and Kingswood could end up in different divisions next season

October 17, 2011
REGION — Is the Pizza Barn Bowl over?

The Oct. 28 game between the Kennett and Kingswood football teams may be the last time the teams meet in the regular season for a few years, if petitions granted by both schools are accepted by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Traditionally, the Knights and Eagles have been in the same division and meet on the final week of the season to determine the Carroll County Championship.

However, every two years, the NHIAA's Football Committee meets to discuss the division of teams and the latest list has the two schools in different divisions.

Both the Eagles and the Knights are also petitioning to move down a division, meaning that if the petitions are granted, the two teams will still be in different divisions.

With football growing in popularity over the last few years, the dividing of teams into divisions has certainly become more and more difficult. All told, 57 football programs are in existence in the state serving 60 schools, up from just more than 40 10 years ago, according to former Kennett Athletic Director Steve Mello, who now serves in the same position at Concord High School and is also on the NHIAA's Football Committee.

One thing that makes football a bit different from most other stick and ball sports is the fact that each team plays just once a week. Therefore, a 10-team league has a nine-week season and everyone plays everyone else. The bottom three divisions, IV, V and VI each have 10 teams, while the upper divisions, I, II and II each have nine squads. Divisions I and II have a 10-game season and play two games outside of their league against opponents from one of the top three divisions. Division III schools have one game outside their division.

Mello notes that the Football Committee goes through great pains to try and make a balanced schedule each year, planning out the 'crossover' games between divisions so that things are fair for everyone involved.

"We worked really hard to get the crossover results in Divisions I, II and III to work," Mello said. "We set up some really competitive games."

The new divisions were exclusively set by enrollment numbers, which is also the case with every NHIAA sport. The Football Committee actually recommended the number of divisions, then the enrollments were used to place schools in divisions. Mello noted the committee felt that six divisions gave the most schools a chance to compete for a championship.

Therefore, the new divisions feature a few moving pieces.

Kennett High School was placed in Division III, where they are joined by current Division III members Souhegan, Pembroke, Goffstown, Portsmouth, Milford, Con-Val and Hollis-Brookline and current Division IV opponent Merrimack Valley.

Kingswood was placed in Division IV, which was not a change. However, the Knights were surrounded by numerous new teams. In addition to current Division IV foes John Stark, Plymouth, Hanover and Lebanon, Bishop Guertin, Sanborn, Windham, Farmington-Nute and Stevens have joined Division IV in the preliminary list.

It his widely expected that Bishop Guertin, currently in Division II, will petition up and it is also widely expected that Farmington-Nute will petition down. Farmington has a team of its own this year and plays in Division VI but is forming a cooperative team with Nute next year, which will bump the enrollment numbers to Division IV levels. A school can petition up as many divisions as it wishes, but may only petition down one division.

Current Division IV squads Laconia and Monadnock have been dropped to Division V, where they will join St. Thomas, Pelham, Kearsarge, Inter-Lakes-Moultonborough, Fall Mountain, Somersworth, Epping-Newmarket and Gilford.

Based on enrollment entirely, Division IV power Trinity is dropped to Division VI, along with Bow, Campbell, Winnisquam, Franklin, Newfound, Raymond, Mascoma, Newport and Bishop Brady.

The NHIAA allows schools to petition up or down divisions, but there is no guarantee that those petitions will be met.

By-Law Article IV, Section 4 in the NHIAA Handbook deals with petitioning.

"A school wishing to petition up/down in a division must present their case through the Executive Director to the respective sport committee who will in turn make a recommendation to the NHIAA Classification Committee. All petitions must be recognized by the Classification Committee and approved by the NHIAA Council. The school must demonstrate it can compete effectively in the higher/lower division. Schools may petition up as many divisions as they choose and may only petition down by one division in that sport. The sports committee must also minimally address the following criteria; school enrollment, win/loss records, number of students in the program, feeder programs, regional opponents (reduce transportation) and other rationale."

"In the past, petitioning down was not prevalent," Mello stated. "We feel like they'll be a record amount this year."

The Football Committee will take all petitions into account and then has to make decisions based on what is best for football as a whole in the state.

"At that point we will consider petitions, up and down, to form the leagues in a fashion that will best serve the needs of football schools in New Hampshire," Mello said.

Kingswood coach Chip Skelley said after a recent loss to Hanover, that while he may not be a fan of petitioning down a division, it might be the right thing to do to get his program turned in the right direction. The Knights have yet to win a game this season, with just two left on the year.

"I have to do what is best for us, not for everyone else," the Knight coach said. "If we want the program to succeed, we can't continue to do what we're doing.

"You're putting kids in situations they really shouldn't be in," Skelley said. "That's not good for the program. You want to keep the freshmen playing by themselves and building up success and winning."

At Kennett, the enrollment numbers put the Eagles at the very bottom of the cutoff for Division III.

Coach Mike Holderman was intrigued by the possibility of moving up a division, but noted that the timing probably wasn't right for the Eagles.

"We just didn't feel ready (to stay in Division III)," Holderman said. "In two years, I think we'd be staying."

He noted that he and his coaches are still in the process of building the program and aren't quite ready to make the jump up but he believes that if things continue to move in the right direction for the Eagles, Division III may be their home in a few years.

"In two years, if that's where we land, that's where we'll be staying I think," the Eagle coach said.

"We'll go criteria by criteria and try to make a defendable position," Mello said of the Football Committee's actions once all petitions are received.

The idea of moving teams from division to division can certainly be tricky, as the Football Committee has the teams evenly spread out across the six divisions and having a division with less than nine or 10 teams throws off the balanced schedule the committee works so hard to achieve each year.

At this point, there's no way of knowing which petitions will be accepted, but the chance remains that next week's Carroll County Championship could be the last of its kind for a while.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at sportsgsn@salmonpress.com or 569-3126

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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