The new football field at Newfound Regional High School should be ready to go next fall. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 20, 2011BRISTOL — Road warriors no more.
After years of playing the majority of games on the road and even traveling to home games at nearby New Hampton School, the Newfound football team will officially have a place to call home when next fall rolls around.
But it was a long journey from the beginning to the point where the program sits now, a year away from christening a new field.
From the beginning, Newfound football was a labor of love. Specifically, it was the dream of Mark Richardson, who played Pop Warner football for the Plymouth Huskies and Laconia Chiefs and wanted the chance to play high school football too.
Thus was born the Friends of Newfound Football, which was the start of football at Newfound Regional High School.
Just two days after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, Newfound's high school kids played their first ever game, suiting up at Zoulias Field at Plymouth Regional High School. That came after a lot of fundraising from Richardson and his friends.
The Newfound Regional School Board recognized the team as a club sport in 2002, allowing the kids to represent Newfound, though the Friends of Newfound Football were still responsible for all costs associated with the team.
Richardson graduated in 2003, leaving behind a football program with a solid financial foundation on which to build and a year later, the school board allowed the team to compete at the varsity level, but it was Richardson's belief that the last piece of the puzzle was a field, a place where the community could gather on Saturday afternoons.
The Friends of Newfound Football, who had worked tirelessly over the first few years of the program to raise funds, eventually got the voters of the school district to approve $14,000 in consecutive years to help build the program and offset expenses and by 2008, they were ready to look ahead to the possibility of a field.
Newfound Athletic Director Pete Cofran, who has been at the school since 2007, notes that the Friends came to the voters with a proposal to build a field on the school property, at no costs to the district.
"They worked out an agreement with the board about liability and all that stuff," Cofran said. And from there, the long road home began.
Bryan Richardson, who is the current President of the Friends of Newfound Football and also Mark Richardson's father, noted that the approach of paying for a program through private funding was something that was unique at the time.
"It was kind of a new approach," Richardson said. "But that's how most other new programs now have happened."
Richardson notes that Newfound was one of the first smaller schools to develop a football program and schools that have done so since, including Gilford and Winnisquam, have followed the model that Newfound created, which was starting as a private group.
"The Newfound football program really was the launching pad for what we now call Division VI," Richardson said. "We were the first small school to do this."
The approach worked, as the Friends were able to come to the district with a program that was up and running, with more than 30 kids playing. That made asking for money from the voters a lot easier. There was a tangible product on the field.
"The approach we used was we built the program, bought the equipment then handed it over to the district as an existing program," Richardson commented. "Most of the time, going to the board isn't going to work."
Richardson remembers going to the board after the 2001 campaign looking to have the team represent Newfound. He said they told the board they had 30 kids and a six-game schedule and just asked the board members to come watch.
"They did and the subsequent year we went to a club sport," he said.
"We were able to raise funds and show them it's a viable project," Richardson added.
Though Mark Richardson passed away in 2010, his dream still lives on and next season, there will be a place for Newfound to call home.
The Newfound football field is located on a hill across the street from the school. It sits high above the high school and when there are leaves on the trees, people at the field will barely be able to tell the school is there.
The field has been a labor of love for local contractor JP Morrison, who agreed to construct the field for $20,000 and Cofran estimates that it could easily be worth 10 times that. Ironically, JP Morrison was also heavily involved in the construction of the original Newfound building as well.
"There was a lot of work to be done," Cofran said.
The field is built on what used to be a hillside, so one end of the field had to be brought down, while the other end was brought up. JP Morrison cut down the trees and leveled the field. They ran into some ledge, which brought an unexpected expense to the project, but they were able to use the blasted ledge for culverts that run along the access road to the field.
In July, the field was finally hydro-seeded and now has a beautiful green coat of grass. A person who is a former Plymouth State University groundskeeper has taken up the task of coordinating all the work to be sure the field is ready to be used next fall.
The Friends of Newfound Football have a total of four teams, including the varsity and JV teams at the high school. The two lower-level teams for younger kids are not part of the school, but they will still be using the field for games.
Cofran stressed that much of the practice time would still have to come on existing fields in order to keep the new field from being torn up too badly, particularly in the first few years.
"We have to watch for weather and we have to be careful with what we do and don't allow until the grass gets strong," Cofran said. "The goal is to have our game games here next year, but the field and player safety are the most important."
There is still plenty of work that needs to be done if the field is going to be ready for the new season. Cofran notes that the Friends of Newfound Football are responsible for any additions to the field, from bleachers to concession stands, from goal posts to benches for the players and beyond. However, any permanent structure constructed on the site has to be brought to the school board for approval.
The school district will mow the fields, but the rest of the maintenance comes from the Friends.
Cofran notes that Kerry Mattson was chosen by the Football Field Oversight Committee to oversee the construction and has made sure everything has gone according to plan.
The Friends of Newfound Football continue to raise funds to improve the field and keep the program going, but having a home field will allow them even more opportunities to raise money.
The group has a Buy a Yard program, where they sell each of the 100 yards on the field to a business or individual. The new field will allow for a concession stand, which stands to help the group raise a good chunk of money each home game. The group has worked at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after big NASCAR events and at the Timberman Triathlon in Gilford each year to raise funds and also hold the Bear Plunge in Newfound Lake each spring.
"The Friends have been very innovative with ideas," Cofran said. "And people are now realizing that it's coming soon."
Both Cofran and Richardson are excited for the new field because of the opportunity it provides for the community.
"It's going to be great for the community, it's going to be great for the kids and good for school spirit," Cofran said. "We have a good following at away games, but not a lot of kids.
"It's about building a program in Bristol," Cofran continued. "And we're very pleased that the citizens of the district supported the program.
"The community bought into the program when they approved it at district meetings," Cofran added.
"It's a beautiful facility, it's going to be a really great place," Richardson said. "We're looking forward to next year for sure."
Both men praised the work of JP Morrison and also had plenty of other praise to go around.
"It has been an act of love on the part of JP Morrison," Richardson said. "I had no idea it was going to take so much work."
Fred Fuller Oil also paid for all of JP Morrison's fuel for the project, which Cofran commended.
"We're just so appreciative of everything JP Morrison and Fred Fuller Oil did to get us to the point where we are now," Cofran said.
He also thanked New Hampton School for allowing Newfound to play a home game (two this year) at one of their fields for the past four seasons.
"New Hampton is very accommodating to let us have our game over there," Cofran said.
And Richardson expressed his gratitude to the many prep school teams in the local area that allowed their JV squads to play Newfound when the program was first starting out, giving the kids their first taste of competition at the high school level.
When next year rolls around, Cofran said he will be excited for the kids as they get the chance to stand on their own field for the first time.
"The guys have been resilient," he said. "They don't know anything about having a home game so it is going to be different."
Next fall promises to be an exciting time at Newfound Regional High School. And for the first time, the football Bears won't have to board a bus every week.
The hard work is about to pay off in a big way.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126
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