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January 10. 2013 10:58PM

Jim Fennell's High School Hoopla: Eighth (grade) wonders

When the Groveton High boys' basketball team beat Gorham earlier this week, the Eagles' Corey Gadway made four 3-pointers and ended up with 14 points.

Gadway is in eighth grade.

And he's just one of two eighth-graders playing for the team.

While this may seem unusual for fans of teams in the southern tier of the state, it's almost common to folks in the North Country.

Pat Corbin, executive director of the NHIAA, said he's approved close to 50 waivers this winter allowing seventh- and eighth-graders to play for high school teams. Most are from teams up north, although there are several Christian schools that have also petitioned for waivers.

Schools in Division III, where enrollments range from 301 to 650 students, are allowed to use eighth-graders; Division IV schools, with enrollments under 301, are allowed to use seventh- and eighth-graders.

"Personally, it's not a policy I'm terribly enamored with, but I also understand without that provision, they couldn't field a team," Corbin said.

Case in point: Pittsburg, with 22 boys in the high school, wouldn't have had enough players to field a baseball team in 2009 without using middle schoolers. The Panthers went on to win the program's first state championship that year with eighth-grader Travis Chase starting the Class S championship game.

Brock Ingalls, athletics director at Groveton, said the decision to move middle school athletes to high school teams is not taken lightly.

"We have an idea of who the students are and whether they can handle the pressure," Ingalls said. "And we make sure the parents are involved."

He said the school, which has an enrollment of 159 students, was in danger of not fielding full varsity and junior varsity boys' basketball teams if it didn't call up kids from the middle school. He said he trusts the judgment of his coaches to make sure they are picking the right players to call up.

"It's a big commitment to play a varsity sport, you're talking about six days a week," Ingalls said. "If the academics are average, we have to consider if they can handle it."

Corbin said soccer, basketball, baseball and softball are the sports where waivers are most requested, but other sports like cross-country, skiing and volleyball commonly have middle school athletes compete for varsity programs. He said he is concerned about the safety of seventh- and eighth-graders competing against older athletes, but no one has been seriously hurt during his tenure.

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WHERE DID I FIND THE TIME? That's what Ed Beattie is wondering after stepping down following 31 years coaching girls' basketball at Winnacunnet High of Hampton.

"I wonder how I did all this other stuff and still coached," Beattie said.

Beattie still teaches history at Winnacunnet and also runs a sheep farm in Hampton Falls.

He said he hasn't gone to a Winnacunnet game this season because he wants new coach Cassie Turcotte - his longtime assistant - and the players to settle in. He says he sees his former players in class, but stays away from talking about the program with them or anyone else.

"I'm not going to analyze anyone else," said Beattie, who finished with a record of 519-173, and seven state titles - including a run of five straight (2007-11) that was highlighted by an 84-game winning streak.

While Beattie said he plans to see the Warriors before the end of the season, he has been seeing other games, even catching up with some of his former players now in college.

"It's enjoyable to go to a game and just watch," Beattie said.

Beattie said he had been contemplating stepping down for a couple of years, but decided to stay until last year's senior class graduated.

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THERE ARE two undefeated games worth keeping an eye on tonight.

On the boys' side, Spaulding puts its 5-0 record on the line when it travels to Manchester to play the 4-0 Pioneers of Trinity.

The Red Raiders have had a relatively easy time of it, but they have played only one team with a winning record. The Pioneers are coming off Tuesday's overtime win over previously undefeated Nashua South.

On the girls' side, it's a Division IV matchup in Jaffrey between Conant (7-0) and Bishop Brady of Concord (8-0).

The Orioles have a winning margin of 16.4 points, playing only one game in which they haven't beat an opponent by double digits. The Green Giants have been even more impressive, winning their eight games by an average margin of 30.1 points and haven't had a team come within 18 points of them.

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