“OK boys, settle down, settle down. Remember rule No. 1: No one else talks when the head coach is speaking.
“You’re all at this meeting because you expressed an interest in playing varsity football this year. Some of you have played for me before, but I know many of you are new to the program. Either way, this year is going to be different. Much different.
“As of right now our school has not approved football because of the virus. We’re hoping this will change, but it’s possible that we will be allowed to practice this season but not play any games. I repeat: You may be asked to practice, and not have the opportunity to compete against other schools on Friday nights …”
ALL PRACTICE AND NO GAMES? That sounds like as much fun as a trip to the dentist.
That’s the prospect the Portsmouth/Oyster River cooperative football program is facing this year, however. At this moment 19 of the 20 NHIAA Division I football programs are diving in with football this fall. Then there’s Portsmouth/Oyster River, which has one foot in the water. Portsmouth/Oyster River coach Brian Pafford isn’t sure what to expect this season.
“To be honest I put that thought (no games) on the back-burner,” Pafford said. “It’s a super-hard sell. We have to approach it like we’re starting to prepare for our first game. They gave us the go-ahead to practice. We need to practice like we’re getting ready for a game. End of story.”
Portsmouth High School officials have given the green light for golf and cross country to proceed as usual this fall. Pafford is part of a subcommittee Portsmouth tasked to come up with ways for the school’s other sports programs to compete against other schools in a safe manner.
Of the 58 NHIAA schools that have varsity football, four — Portsmouth, Somersworth, ConVal and Kearsarge — are not offering that sport this fall. At least not yet.
“The final decision, we have been told, will be made by the superintendent (Steve Zadravec),” Pafford said. “Right now I have no idea when that decision will be made.”
NHIAA football teams were allowed to practice for the first time Tuesday. Week 1 games will be played Sept. 25-26. The good news is that players in the Portsmouth/Oyster River program are not shying away from football. Equipment has been handed out to 65 players. According to Pafford, that’s the largest roster Portsmouth has had in at least 15 years.
“I’m just excited to be out here right now practicing,” said wide receiver/defensive back Matthew Koener, a senior who began his career at Pinkerton Acdemy, but now attends Oyster River. “It’s something to look forward to every day and puts you on a schedule. I think our parents and coaches are working really hard to get the season. We’ll follow any guidelines. We’re just hopeful. We’ll see what happens.”
“I feel like this year has been so chaotic that having something normal like coming to practice every day gets your mind off what’s going on — COVID and stuff,” added senior Joey Gobbi, a two-way lineman. “It kind of gets you in a positive mindset.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 7, and to not be playing it this fall ... that would be really tough. If it were an inside sport it might be a different story, but it feels safe being outside.”
Portsmouth/Oyster River, which competes in Division I East, has a tentative schedule in place that includes a non-conference game against Concord. The ClipperCats are also scheduled to play the four other Division I East teams: Dover, Exeter, Spaulding and Winnacunnet.
“The way I understand it, the scheduling for the most part is done,” Pafford said. “If we don’t enter it would be a bye week for those teams unless they can find someone else to play.”
Although Pafford said he’s planning on playing in three weeks, right now there’s only practice.
“I think that’s why we’re all frustrated because we did everything they asked us to do all summer and we haven’t moved forward,” he said. “Hopefully the work we’ve done as boosters and parents gets it done. That’s the only thing we can hope. We all think playing is the correct thing to do. Every kid out there will do whatever it takes.”
According to the NHIAA website, the football championship games in Division III and Division IV are scheduled for Nov. 14. The Division I and Division II championship games will be played Nov. 21.
In recent years the championship games in Divisions I, II and III were played one week after the Division IV title game. For now, all playoff games are scheduled to be played at neutral high school sites.
Jaylen LeRoy, who played basketball at Manchester Central and then Plymouth State University, has signed a professional contract with Sportivo America de Rosario of the Argentinian League.
LeRoy, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 19.0 points per game for Plymouth State last season, which ranked fourth in the Little East Conference. He was a two-year captain for the Panthers and finished his college career as the No. 4 scorer in the program’s history (1,811 points).
The New Hampshire Golf Hall of Fame will not have an induction ceremony this season. The next class will be inducted in 2021.