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John Habib's City Sports: Memorial legends deserve honor; flag football takes off

By JOHN HABIB
August 11. 2017 8:17PM

Joe O'Neil at the Derryfield Park cross country course circa 1994. (COURTESY)

FOR YEARS, I’ve supported the running community’s cause of honoring former Manchester Central track and cross-country coach Joe O’Neil by naming the Derryfield Park cross country course after him. O’Neil has declined it, instead still wanting and waiting to have the city name the Livingston Park track after him.

Trouble is, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas has said his family owns the naming rights of the Dr. Louis T. Gatsas Athletic Complex at Livingston Park, named after his late father, and won’t capitulate to O’Neil’s wishes. This ongoing saga has lasted for three years and no one wants to budge.

Well, the voice from this corner believes it’s time to move on.

Since O’Neil doesn’t want his name on the 3.1-mile cross country course, I would suggest the running community begin a new campaign to support naming the Derryfield course after former Manchester Memorial coaches Richard “Nip” Provencher and Doug Glance.

I was able to attain the impressive resumes of these two legendary coaches from Manchester Memorial icon Ted Menswar.

In cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, Provencher has attained 40 total (boys’ and girls’) Manchester City indoor/outdoor championships and has led the Crusaders to five overall winter/spring state titles and one cross-country state title.

His career in track includes 23 years (1986-2009) coaching winter track and 26 years (1983-2009) in spring track. He coached the girls’ cross-country team for three years and the boys’ cross-country team for nine years.

Glance is the founding father of the Manchester Invitational Cross Country Meet, considered one of the top meets in the country. Glance directed that meet for over 25 years. His 27-year coaching career (cross-country, winter/spring track) yielded him a state championship and a New England title in cross-country.

I can personally remember Glance working diligently at all the cross-country and track meets. Before and after the meets, he’d always call our newspaper making sure we had an advance story and a follow-up meet story with results. He made sure all the kids were getting the coverage they deserved for their hard work.

So with all due respect to O’Neil, who chose to pass on the Derryfield course, the running community should consider honoring Glance and Provencher.

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When Josh Morgan was four years old, he wanted to start playing football, said his father, Chris.

But as a concerned parent, Morgan wasn’t thrilled about having his child play tackle football at such an early age. So he did his research and discovered that non-contact flag football was gripping the country.

“When I learned the rules prohibited tackling and blocking, I said this was exactly the right sport for my child and other kids his age,” said Morgan.

Six years ago, Morgan started the Manchester Flag Football League, considered one of the top flag football leagues in the country. It serves 500 kids year-round.

Adam Tambouris makes a cutback as Zach McDarby pursues during Manchester Flag Football League action. (COURTESY BARRY McDARBY)

Morgan, son of former Manchester Memorial baseball coach Jim Morgan, who coached the Crusaders to two state championships, said his program operates two spring programs, including a middle school league from May to July, a fall league from September to November and an indoor league from December to February.

The league is open to boys and girls in four age categories (5-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-15). Livingston Park, featuring four football fields (70 yards long, 30 yards wide) hosts the spring, summer and fall leagues while the Candia Youth Association hosts the winter league.

“The fall league is our main league because naturally it’s football season,” said Morgan. “We average around 300 kids in the fall and over 200 kids during the other seasons, which each run about eight weeks.”

Each game features two 25-minute halves with running time.

“So it takes a little over an hour to complete a game,” said Morgan. “The sport is inexpensive. All a kid needs is a pair of sneakers and a mouth guard. We provide the uniforms, flags, balls and we hire officials to work the games.”

Morgan said the games feature five-on-five competition. “Again it’s a non-contact sport,” said Morgan. “Once the ball is either handed off or thrown, everyone on offense has to stop playing. The defense must pursue the player with the ball and try to pull the flag off the hip area.”

Morgan doesn’t deny injuries can occur to an ankle, knee or hand in flag football, but the lack of physical contact significantly cuts down on the number of serious injuries, including concussions.

“Our games are competitive and fun,” said Morgan. “The kids are learning the skills of the game without the equipment you have for regular football.”

In 2012 Morgan, through the support of the Manchester School District, started a middle school league that includes Southside, Parkside, Hillside and McLaughlin middle schools.

“I approached (Hillside principal) Brendan McCafferty, he loved it and brought the other three principals (Jennifer Gillis at Southside, Forrest Ransdell at Parkside and Bill Krantz at McLaughlin) on board. There’s no cost to the schools or kids because we secured a sponsor. I spoke to an official at NFL flag headquarters and he told me he never heard of any school playing flag football. So we could be the first in the country to have it,” said Morgan. “It’s my hope someday to get the NHIAA to sanction a flag football league on the varsity high school level. It would be neat one day for high school kids to have an opportunity to perhaps play for a regular football championship in the fall and a flag football title in the spring.”

Morgan said flag football is growing in popularity in the state. “When we started our league (2011), Pelham was the only community that had flag football,” said Morgan. “Soon after, people from other communities came to watch our league, copied us and, started leagues of their own.”

Morgan, who also lauded City Parks Director Tom Mattson and former Manchester assistant superintendent David Ryan for their support, said lacrosse hasn’t affected his flag football registration numbers. “Our middle school programs and regular-season programs in the spring are near capacity,” said Morgan. Many kids play flag football on both spring teams, he noted.

While there are only about 15 girls who play in the league, “someday I would like to have enough players to start a girls’ league,” said Morgan. “We encourage girls to register and stress the game is fun and safe to play.”

Morgan, who is the president and commissioner of the league, said parents can register their kids for the upcoming fall season online at: manchesterflagfootball.com. The fall season starts Sept. 10.

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THE STRONGEST youth baseball league in the city, the Greater Manchester Pony League, is expecting 300 kids to compete in fall ball, which includes the Pony (ages 12-13), Colt League (ages 14-15), and Palomino/Thorobred Combined League (ages 16-23).

“This is our 10th season and we’ve maintained that 300 participation number, which speaks volumes for our entire league,” said league president Steve Fosman. “The city has done a great job refurbishing our Pony League field and we plan on playing fall ball games on weekends at Ray Cross Field, Piscataquog, Livingston and Memorial High at Mike Flanagan Field.”

Fosman said registration for the fall program will be held today and Sunday at the Pony Field Clubhouse on the corner of Maple and Auburn streets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Games will begin the weekend after Labor Day. Visit manchestercoltleague.com for more information.

jhabib@unionleader.com


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