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January 03. 2013 12:00AM

Mascoma's Kershaw named Shrine coach


Ray Kershaw, whose Mascoma Valley Regional of Canaan team was recognized as the most improved high school squad in the state, has been named coach of the New Hampshire team for the 2013 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. (COURTESY)
When Ray Kershaw became Mascoma Regional High School's varsity football coach the Royals were a fledgling program struggling to be competitive.

That was back in 2010. Mascoma had won one game since the program gained varsity status in 2008. Even worse was the fact that participation numbers were very low.

"We had 15 players when I took over in June (2010)," Kershaw recalled. "I had a meeting with the principal and the AD and they told me I really had to get the numbers up or one of two things would happen: The program would either fold, or we would be reduced to playing a JV schedule."

Three seasons later Kershaw guided Mascoma to the No. 1 seed in Division VI. The Royals completed the 2012 season with an 8-3 record after losing to Franklin in the Division VI championship game.

"It was a very satisfying season," Kershaw said. "It would have been nice to end it with a state championship, but we had 36 kids on our roster. The fan support was always growing. I told the kids that the important things were hard work and dedication, and as long as we were having fun the wins would come."

Kershaw, a 46-year-old Springfield resident, is hoping his next coaching victory comes in the 2013 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. Kershaw was named New Hampshire's head coach last month.

He'll put his fingerprints on a New Hampshire team that will face Vermont on Aug. 3 at Dartmouth's Memorial Field. New Hampshire has won the last 12 meetings and holds a 44-13-2 edge in the series. New Hampshire set a Shrine Maple Bowl record for points scored when it posted a 62-24 victory last summer.

"I had no intention of coaching, but a lot of people asked me to apply for it after the season," Kershaw said. "Being named the head coach was very exciting for me. It's a great honor because of what the game is all about."

Some changes have been put in place for this year's game. Practice has been shortened from nine days to seven, and, in an attempt to make the game more competitive, added restrictions have been placed on how New Hampshire can select its team.

Kershaw will have to choose six players from each of New Hampshire's six divisions, and can select no more than two players from any one team. In past years the New Hampshire coach could choose as many as nine players from Division I, eight from Division II, six from Division III, six from Division IV, four from Division V and three from Division VI.

Vermont, which does not have similar restrictions, has selected as many as nine players from one team in the past. New Hampshire had 56 varsity football teams last season. Vermont had 34.

"I'm fine with it (the selection process)," Kershaw said. "I like the fact that it gives more kids from the lower divisions a chance to play. That's the argument I like. The bottom line is that this is just about raising money for kids in the (Shriners) hospitals."

Kershaw joined the workforce after he played high school football in Coventry, R.I. He came to Mascoma after serving as an assistant coach at Proctor Academy from 2004 to 2009.

He said he has always followed New Hampshire high school football, and was interested in the Mascoma job even though the Royals were regularly on the short end of lopsided scores (Franklin beat Mascoma 71-0 in the final regular-season game of the 2009 season).

"They had a lot of support to get that program going, but they were really struggling," Kershaw said. "You hate to see any program fold."

Kershaw's first Mascoma team had 21 players on the roster, and he coached 28 players in 2011. Each of his first two teams won two games.

It's unlikely the 2012 Mascoma team was a one-hit wonder, since 29 of the 36 players on the roster are eligible to return next season.

Kershaw also said there's a feeder program in place at the middle school level that should keep talent flowing to the high school program.

"It's been a gradual building process, and across the board the support has been outstanding," he said. "We used to be 100 percent funded by the boosters, and hopefully next year we'll be 100 percent funded by the school. The program is on the right track."

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Roger Brown may be reached at rbrown@unionleader.com.

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