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October 12. 2012 10:58PM

John Habib's City Sports: Gill centennial plans under way

David McCloskey, from, left, John Jordan, Pat Bryan, Ruthie Smith, Mayor Ted Gatsas, Peter Capano and Mike Lopez hold a banner for the 100th anniversary celebration for Gill Stadium in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

FOR MORE than six months, plans have been in the works for the centennial of Manchester's Gill Stadium, which opened as Textile Field on Sept. 8, 1913.

Those plans are now being finalized by a committee co-chaired by George Smith, formerly an alderman and longtime athletics director for the Sweeney American Legion post, and Peter Capano, chief of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Division.

Festivities on the original opening day drew capacity crowds totaling around 14,000, according to the Manchester Union, forebear of the New Hampshire Union Leader. About 7,000 spectators filled the stadium for a daytime baseball game between the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and an all-star team from the local Manufacturing League, the paper reported. Another 7,000 or so came out that night for a soccer game and fireworks display.

Gill will be a festive place again next Sept. 13, but the festivities won't include baseball. By the time the 100th anniversary rolls around, Gill be set up for soccer and football, with the pitcher's mound leveled and bleachers set up in front of left field.

“So we'll go with football and soccer, followed by a fireworks show on September 8,” Capano said.

Capano had hoped to renew a storied Gill Stadium football rivalry for the occasion, but that's unlikely to happen. Until they played each other for the last time in 1980, Manchester Central High and Haverhill, Mass., had the fourth-oldest high school rivalry in the nation. Capano wanted to see the two schools face each other again.

“We were trying to get Haverhill to come here next year for the anniversary, but it's not looking good because of scheduling conflicts,” he said. “We've now turned our attention of trying to get Concord to fill that date.”

There's some history there, too, Capano noted.

“Our research showed that earlier in the century, Central and Concord both wore red,” said Capano. “One year, both schools agreed to compete for the right to wear that color permanently. The loser would have to choose another color. Concord ended up winning and became the Crimson Tide.”

Central became the Little Green.

“So, in the spirit of the centennial, our committee felt a game between Central and Concord would fit perfectly in our plans,” Capano said.

Capano said the committee is working on selecting opponents for the soccer game.

Capano said the centennial committee has decided to have every city team that plays at Gill Stadium next year wear a commemorative patch on its uniforms.

“We were looking into the possibility of scheduling a men's soccer game between Southern New Hampshire University and St. Anselm College,” he said. “I received word this week that the Penmen's 2013 schedule is already set and they're suppose to host Dowling College on September 8. I'm planning to see if we can move that game to Gill Stadium. If St. Anselm has a home game that day, I'll ask them if they also want to play it at Gill. We have no problem with scheduling two college soccer games that day.”

Capano said he's talked to the city about staging an August or September 5K road race that would start and/or finish at Gill Stadium.

He also said the committee is interested in getting the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to schedule one Eastern League baseball game on Valley Street.

“We haven't approached the Fisher Cats yet, but that's a possibility,” he said.

The Fisher Cats played their entire 2004 home schedule at Gill Stadium while their new home, what is now known as Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, was under construction a few blocks away on the banks of the Merrimack River. In their first game in New Hampshire, the Fishers faced the Trenton Thunder and their promising second baseman, Robinson Cano.

Whether the Fisher Cats return to Gill or not, there will be plenty of baseball at the stadium next summer. The Manchester Babe Ruth League is planning to host the New England Regional for 13s at Gill in late July and/or early August.

Other possibilities under discussion for the stadium's centennial year include a boxing event, which New Hampshire Boxing and Wrestling Commissioner Bobby Stephen said he could organize.

While there won't be a baseball game, committee members hope to have a Red Sox presence for the anniversary.

“The Red Sox are on our list. We're focused on bringing retired Red Sox players and even addressing the idea of inviting owner John Henry, if he has the time,” said Capano. “We're still working on it.”

- - - - - - -

A YEAR AGO, Luke Capistran of Manchester died at the age of 16 after a courageous battle with cancer.

People who knew him talk about his love of life, family and friends. He would do almost anything to make another person's life better.

This past summer, the Manchester Babe Ruth League honored Capistran by naming a scholarship after him. League president Gary Ulbin also had Luke's initials stitched on the hats of every team in the Ray Lebel and Tom Woodlock leagues.

“He was a special kid who will never be forgotten,” said Ulbin.

Capistran's memory is being honored again this month. We recently received an e-mail from Hillside Middle School teacher Kathy Carlson, who along with countless others decided to organize the first annual Luke Capistran Memorial 5K Race/Fun Walk, set for next Saturday, Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. at Derryfield Park.

Proceeds will go to the Luke Capistran Scholarship Fund. Advance registration is $15, $20 on race day. The first 200 participants to register will receive a free t-shirt. Race-packet pickup and post entries will start at Derryfield at 8 a.m.

For more information on the 5k race and fun walk, email Carlson at

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