Vin Sylvia: Championship Saturday sets Central abuzz
Basketball player Dawson Dickson described the atmosphere at Manchester High School Central Friday as one of "high-fives and handshakes." Hockey captain Tim Tetreault described the excitement throughout the building as fellow students buzzed about what was to come the following day.
When Tetreault and his teammates stunned top-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover with a 4-1 victory in the NHIAA Division I semifinals at JFK Coliseum in Manchester Thursday night, it set up a sports doubleheader unprecedented in the history of New Hampshire's oldest public high school.
At noon today, the boys' basketball team will tip off against Merrimack High at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham for the Division I title in that sport. Four and a half hours later, its hockey team will face off against Londonderry High at Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena for a title of its own.
It's Championship Saturday in the Granite State — the Central-Londonderry game is one of four hockey state finals at the Verizon, the Central-Merrimack contest is the first half of a basketball title twin bill at Lundholm, and the Division IV boys' hoops final is set for noon at Plymouth State University — no school has more to gain than the one located in the center of New Hampshire's largest city.
We have the weather — as well as the Little Green, of course — to thank for that.
Londonderry and Bedford High also have two teams playing for titles this weekend, but weather-related postponements resulted in the Division I girls' basketball final being moved from Saturday to Sunday, stretching those schools' championship doubleheaders over two days. So while the Londonderry and Bedford girls are preparing to face each other Sunday at Southern New Hampshire University, the rest of their communities can spend today focusing on hockey, with the Lancers in the Division final and the Bulldogs in the Division II title game.
That leaves one team with an opportunity to win two winter championships on a single day this weekend: Central.
"It was a great atmosphere at school today — a really good buzz around the entire building," Tetreault said before taking the ice for practice Friday afternoon.
"Kids who had been at JFK last night were coming up to us saying, 'Good game' and 'Good luck tomorrow.' The basketball guys were wishing us good luck, and we were saying the same to them. It was a good day at school — a really good day."
There is a down side to having both teams playing for titles on the same day. Most of the basketball team was in the stands cheering for the hockey team Thursday night, but the timing of the championship games doesn't allow for hockey players to return the favor this afternoon.
"We understand," Dickson said of the hockey players' decision to stick close to home. "We have a championship game to prepare for, and they do, too. I'm sure if the situation were reversed, we'd make the same choice and they'd understand."
Both Tetreault and Dickson praised the rest of the student body for its support of the two teams.
"I know a big crowd is going straight from the basketball game to the hockey game," Tetreault said. "We really appreciate them carting their butts around all day for us."
"The upperclassmen have been really good about getting the underclassmen out to all the games," Dawson added. "The support the teams have received has been awesome."
Brian Stone, a 1984 Central graduate as well as the school's hockey head coach, is caught up in the excitement.
"If the NHIAA told us today they were moving our game to Sunday so we could go to the basketball game, I wouldn't have a problem with that," he said Friday afternoon. "Having the basketball kids cheering us on at our game Thursday night was huge. I'd love find a way for our guys to be in Durham cheering for them."
Stone accurately recalled Central winning boys' and girls' basketball championships as well as a hockey title during his freshman year, in 1981, but he couldn't remember whether all three championships came on the same day.
They didn't. Today is the day to do something unprecedented.
"That would be something," Stone said. "That would really be something."
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at email@example.com.